Igloo cleaners beyond the Arctic Circle - housekeeping job at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort
Kakslauttanen, Lapland, Finland
Not so long ago, one of my friends shared on Facebook one of the many viral videos that, this time, caught my attention. The promotional shot was in a very attractive way presenting the beauty of the snowy Arctic wilderness located deep beyond the Arctic circle, in the inhospitable but charming Finnish Lapland.
Lovely footage, a bird's eye shot filmed by a drone overlooking the village of wooden cottages lying under piles of white snow hidden somewhere in the middle of Scandinavian forests, was showing the beauty of the pure Lapland's nature. During the flight over the frozen plains of the arctic tundra camera swiftly focused on a fast-moving sled being pulled by a pack of dogs passing by a herd of wild elks and raindeers resting in the snow. Attractive high-angle shots alternated with quick cuts from the interior of luxury wooden chalets and glass igloos accompanied by impressive examples of tasty local cuisine and gastronomic specialties being served by happy staff. The amazingness of this place was very well illustrated by the look at the groups of cheerful tourists running from the steamy sauna out into the freezing night, to cool down their bodies in an ice bath illuminated by a glitter of stars and a greenish northern lights glow.
When you watch this clip, you get the feeling that this is precisely one of the places you must visit once in a lifetime. It's tempting to feel the deep arctic frost on your own skin, watch the northern lights with your own eyes, try dog sledding and spend some nights in an authentic Scandinavian log cabin. Isn't it? Everything sounds like a unique life experience that many people would spend a lot of money on.
After a few seconds of watching this clip, I realized ... The video came from the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, the place where I had the honor of working for several weeks.
Now, I would like to present to you the other - the unseen side of the matter. If we neglect the glamor presented to the tourists in the advertising spots, the reality will reveal some interesting details that only the employees of the resort may get to know.
We have found the job at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort on our own. We picked the resort, contacted them by email, and after a few days and an informal interview with the founder of the resort and a millionaire - Jussi, we received a contract of employment. At first, everything looked fairly as a fairy-tale. Work on an arctic resort offering luxury accommodation in wooden chalets and glass igloos sounded terrific. The biggest attraction of the resort were the domed shaped glass igloos that just encouraged couples to spend a romantic night with a unique view of the sky full of stars and the northern lights directly from the bed. Igoos seemed to act as a magnet for Asian tourists who attribute magical characteristics to the northern lights, and believe that the child conceived in Aurora's glow must gain supernormal abilities. As per the job description we had to keep clean all these structures since we applied for housekeeping.
At the beginning of September, after two days of traveling, we finally arrived at a place called Kakslauttanen, a village (limited only to resort buildings) about 250 km north of the Arctic circle, forgotten somewhere in the middle of the arctic forests and lakes. On the phone, we were told that the GM would take care of us upon arrival. She called us at the moment we arrived and informed us that we had to wait a few minutes for her. At least we had the opportunity to look around the area of our new home. We were waiting in the oldest part of the resort, in the East Village, the place where the business started about four decades ago. In fact, the first impression was not fantastic. Outside the reception building, the area was somewhat neglected, the reception itself was locked. All kind of junk and construction material was scattered all over the place.
Nearly an hour later, the manager finally arrived in a polished blue Audi. Followed by a white van from which two other Indians and one South American jumped out. After a brief acquaintance and without further delays, she led us to our cabin. Several times during our brief conversation she repeated that it was a "luxury" cabin type (so we should be grateful - and we indeed have been). We opened the cottage door and had to admit - it was impressive. We had two bathrooms, a sauna, a fireplace, a living room, a kitchen, and a bedroom. Take a look for yourself. This accommodation was only temporary, and in a month or so we should move to a standard employee's apartment, which was still occupied by other workers at the moment.
On the second day, we were slowly starting to experience how isolated this place was. It was 10 km away from the first small shop (most of the goods were expired there anyway). Pricey bus service to the first bigger supermarket (40 km away) was running sporadically. There was no single store or any other option to get supplies throughout the resort. The only place to eat was the restaurant Aurora located in the neighbor West Village (5 km away from the East Village). Not to mention exorbitant prices.
Fortunately, on the same day, we were given the opportunity to go shopping in Ivalo (40 km away) with a group of employees in a company van. We bought a pile of supplies. It was as clear as day that we would not get another groceries earlier than in a week or two.
The only day off after arrival (Sunday) we spent on getting to know the place, meeting colleagues and shopping.
On Monday morning, at 9 AM we already found ourselves in a cramped staff kitchen - the housekeeping office. They split us up, and each has been assigned to a more experienced employee, as a part of one-day training. Finnish Anni was in charge of me. During the day in a lazy way, she tried to explain the necessary procedures and job requirements. While I had the chance to work in the igloo section, Magda was assigned to the chalet section.
It was September 4th. The sun shone through the two-layer tempered igloo glass like crazy, and despite the unbearable heat (up to 42 degrees C inside), I really did enjoy the work. Towards the end of the shift, the laid-back housekeeping manager Lotta gently pushed us to fill the daily plan. Here, for the first time, I have noticed that the resort is somewhat overly focused on numbers, productivity and the fulfillment of the plan. On that day, after about 7.5 hours of work, we cleaned a total of 13 igloos in two people.
The next day I foolishly thought that I was going to continue training. To my surprise, when I got to work, I was told I was already trained so I can work without supervision. The two girls, who had been working in housekeeping as substitutes only, had been impatiently waiting for the exciting moment of our arrival, and after that, they immediately changed their job.
It did not matter, thanks to our valuable experience in housekeeping from Canada, we performed our tasks conscientiously, and everything went smoothly.
Five days after we started, our colleagues, two Bulgarian women, disappeared without prior notice (previously complaining about pain), and a formerly five-member team became a team of three people suddenly — me, Magda and crazy Croatian Maya.
As time went by, the volume of tasks grew up unprecedentedly. Intensity and numbers increased exponentially.
After the first week, I already had to train a newcomer, a young Spanish guy called Rafael.
After two weeks of our work, a disaster occurred. At 8 AM, on our day off, someone was vehemently knocking at our cabin's door. Unhappy and grumpy I got out of my bed, opened the door, and heard the disturbing news. Our housekeeping manager Lotta just quit without prior notice, and on top of that, one of the two newcomers was denied a visa. We were immediately called back to work. On that day, everything fell apart like a house of cards, and real chaos emerged. We - last 4 cleaners standing without a manager were given a superhuman task. Ensure that all 80 previously opened units are cleaned daily and the next 80 will be prepared for the upcoming season.
Without guidance and thorough training, we had to deal with that ourselves. In addition, we were missing cleaning products, sprays, clean linen and towels, bags. In short, it was nothing but chaos.
We could use only one car (and not all the time), which was a significant problem. Because of the size of the resort, we had to walk a lot - like a lot. Lot of things we had to carry literally on our backs. In the West Village, the individual sections of accommodation units (glass igloos, cottages, Kelo igloos) were scattered all around the place, 2 to 3 km from each other. Not to mention distances within individual sections.
Enough work - that was the only thing we had an abundance of. In the middle of September, the season gradually began to gain momentum, and more tourists arrived each day. From the reception, we were constantly being bombarded by calls of all kinds (mostly lacking any logic). Instead of accommodating incoming tourists in the second, completely available and clean igloo row, they would rather repeatedly call to clean up the first row (instead of 20 minutes to clean one igloo we had barely half of the time). The receptionists needed explicit permission of the GM to change the room number. In fact, the GM had to approve and control everything. Actually, she tried to manage everything from the housekeeping, through the front desk, to the back-office. No one was allowed to think independently and take responsibility. The GM was naturally overloaded, besides she did not understand most things, she was stressed out every day. That's where all the chaos on all levels came from.
In the igloo section, we only had one old crappy two-wheeler push cart (the one used by homeless people to collect scrap material) for the transport of all material, bedding, and cleaning products. In this cart, we had to transport clean laundry, bags with dirty laundry, vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, mop, extra roll up beds, and so on. Tourists looked at us with surprise at times. No wonder if you pay 600 euros per night for a small igloo, it is hard to believe that in the rain and mud the resort staff uses an old wobbly cart to transport material.
Over time, the GM's demands exceeded the acceptable limit. The time two people had to clean only 13 igloos per day was long gone. At week 3, we were expected to clean up at least 20 igloos per day in two people. Instead of the originally scheduled 25 minutes to clean a small igloo (toilet, double bed) and 40 minutes to clean a big igloo (toilet, shower, 4 beds), we were forced not to spend more than 15-20 minutes per unit, regardless of its size.
In the 4th week, we were already expected to clean in two people 15 igloos and building with saunas, restrooms, and showers during the first 3 hours. After that, we had to quickly move to other sections of the resort where countless chalets were waiting for us (luxury wooden cottages - a kitchen, a living room, 4 beds, bathroom, sauna, and Kelo Igloos - a combination of a large wooden cabin and igloo).
There were days when we were asked to clean in two people up to 13-17 huge Kelo igloos (in 7.5 hours).
In the 4th week we got additional support of one novice and two waiters, but overall the pace remained deadly. Due to the unceasing calls from the reception and the ongoing training of the newcomers we did not have enough time to get everything done, and we were getting into enormous time stress. The goals were set utterly beyond our physical possibilities. Management did not get the basic fact that while Magda and I do 80% of the total work the newcomers contribute with mere 20%. Management's planning did not take into account the fact that novices are naturally slower. We could not take the two mandatory 10-minute breaks per day either. When we politely ask the management about paying us these 20 minutes a day, they said that we rather should get use to working in the very hectic tourist industry. So they didn't pay. Lunch break was the only time we could stop for a moment and possibly go to the toilet. The break usually lasted only 15 to 20 minutes.
A month passed, more units have been opened, and we still lacked cleaning supplies and mainly more colleagues.
After just a month of working at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, we were at the brink of physical exhaustion, frustrated, having zero personal life. We did not get any days off either (1 day in 9 days).
More than the work itself, unfortunately, we have been discouraged by the management's approach to employees, which has entirely lacked a bit of interest, respect or understanding. Happened that at the end of the shift one of my colleagues collapsed psychically (after 2 weeks of work). We could not calm her down. No wonder, if the GM, after a hard day, told her she didn't care at all that she was feeling bad. The only resort owner's interest was maximizing profits. At all costs. How to get the most money from the tourists through a constant price increases (small igloos 600 EUR per night, large igloo 900 EUR, cottage 1000 EUR and Kelo igloo up to 2000 EUR per night), introduction of new service charges (airport pick-up, luggage pick-up, Wifi, etc.), charging seemingly banal services (Husky petting for 39 EUR). The range of toiletries provided in the rooms is decreasing year after year. Instead of a set of luxury shampoo, conditioner, and soap, as was the last year's practice, now you will get only universal liquid wholesale soap (something you can find at airports). Once generously loaded VIP basket has been now substituted with a small basket counting one chocolate bar and one 1.5 dl bottle of champagne (for a bold surcharge).
In a radical way, they are also trying to reduce staff costs by employing significantly fewer people, than they would really need. Moreover, they squeeze them accordingly. It is no wonder that every week several employees quit from one day to the next. During our five-week service, we witnessed the departure of 9 people from different departments and a bunch of other mates left in the weeks to come.
After five weeks, we decided to leave too (thank God for a three-month probationary period). The GM was unexpectedly surprised during our last meeting and didn't have any idea what was really going on. She invited the owner Jussi to try to convince us to stay. They did not absolutely realize that they overload people, even though the stats look on paper just fine.
If you ask me if this accommodation is worth your money, I have to honestly answer NO. The experience of the arctic nature is indeed indescribably beautiful, Aurora, dog sledding and trips to the tundra are definitely worth trying, but somewhere else.
Other companies near Rovaniemi, Saariselka or Ivalo offer similar igloos and at lower prices! Personally, I do not like that the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is trying, in an indescribable aggressive way, to extract from the pure nature an absolute maximum without paying back anything in return. Next time, I would most certainly avoid this place. That's for sure.
Our last igloo to clean
Vacuuming inside the luxury cottage Kelo Igloo
Preparation of the igloo for the upcoming winter season