Safe adventures: An ethnographic study of safety and adventure guides in Arctic Norway

Masterthesis written by Mats Hoel Johannessen, who since 2012 has been involved in adventure tourism in Arctic Norway as a student, guide and entrepreneur.

By: Mats Hoel Johannessen

As an educated Arctic Nature guide the topic of safety has always been of a great personal interest. However, the idea behind the thesis started to develop when I noticed that such questions was repeatedly debated in national media. Based on my background, it felt natural to explore this topic from the perspective of guides. My data in the thesis are derived from autoethnographical diary, as well as interviews with six domestic and international guides in Arctic Norway.

The content analysis resulted in a thesis with a slightly different direction than I assumed at the beginning. Surprisingly, the guides, instead of talking about specific elements within the topic of safety, voiced issues concerning the work and quality of work in Arctic Norway. For instance, that their working conditions were dependent upon the company, and even the products that they guided. At the same time, similar to other places, guides in the Arctic also worked seasons, and often did physically tough work with much responsibility. Moreover, the guides often had fluctuating working hours, meaning that they often worked either more or less than the standardized 7,5 hour day. This had impact on family circumstances. It was also common that the guides worked without being paid (e.g. preparations). This extra work, on top of the regular working hours, often made the guides stressed, which then potentially jeopardized issues concerning safety. Further, it was also evident that the working environments and working cultures varied a lot from company to company. Such variations were the result of the almost lack of governmental regulations of adventure tourism companies.

In the thesis I also argue that safety and other relevant practices must be understood through the intersection of friluftsliv and adventure tourism. Operators within the industry use their own friluftsliv experience and interests when creating adventure tourism products. In combination with few governmental restrictions, this opens up for a highly individualistic approach towards how to take preventive actions and how to solve issues concerning safety. The same individuality also marks the products, as guides are given few guidelines. Consequently, it is mostly up to the guide to utilize their own friluftsliv skills in order to execute the product in a safe manner. Guides criticize these loose guidelines.

First, they feel that there are too little restrictions in respect of hosting, and producing adventure tourism products in both Arctic Norway, and in the country in general. This is exemplified in that all training is based on the company owner’s friluftsliv experiences. Hence, the lack of a systematic approach towards safety jeopardizes such issues.

Second, guides became less stressed when working within a systematic approach, and standardized routine. A more systematic approach towards safety is therefore my recommendation to the industry.

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