Siirry sisältöön
Building relationships in the sauna – like a local Finn

Travellers seek authentic local experiences and a sense of community. In Finland, sauna is the typical place for relaxation but also a place for building relationships, even in business.


Nora Lappalainen

project specialist
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 17.04.2024

Many of us recognize the desire to experience something authentic about the local culture when travelling. We prefer to seek the local atmosphere, willing to find the hidden gems and learn from the local people. We want to listen to their stories, and we try to understand and adapt to their way of life.

The Live like a local trend is part of sustainable tourism, which is one of the top three trends influencing travelling to Finland: the two other trends being Nature & outdoors travel and Digitalisation & technology. According to Visit Finland, when considering international visitors travelling to Finland, live like a local means especially valuing genuine encounters and hoping to enjoy the natural and cultural surroundings in their most authentic form. (Visit Finland 2021.)

Sustainable tourism aims to enhance the destinations and better places to live. By visiting the destinations tourists bring profits and jobs to the local communities, while respecting their original culture and nature. Social sustainability aims to provide the conditions for well-being not only for present but also for future generations. (Visit Finland 2022.)

Discovering Finnish sauna culture

A visit to the Allas Sea Pool, a popular center for seaside bathing and urban culture in the middle of the Helsinki city center, was a voluntary program for the participants of the Erasmus+ project, ENRICHER hubs kick-off event. As hosts of this event, we chose this destination for two reasons: to introduce our foreign partners to the Finnish sauna bathing tradition, which is included in the UNESCOs list of intangible cultural heritage offer (Finnish Sauna Society) and to strengthen the relationships among project partners.

A sense of community is often created somewhere else than behind laptops in a meeting room. In our culture, collaborative relationships have traditionally been built in the sauna, even on board and executive levels. The roots of the Sauna diplomacy can already be found in Finnish history when our former president Urho Kekkonen used to do politics by inviting the guests into sauna (Fota 2023). Sauna offers a place for relaxation and everyone is considered an equal there. Therefore, it is a fruitful place to build common understanding and mutual trust.

It is all about people

The Finnish sauna experience has surely helped project partners build more casual and stronger connections on an individual level. This shared, even a bit weird and unfamiliar, experience in a Finnish sauna and bathing center on a foggy winter day, was a memorable experience for all of us.

We also have saunas in Austria, but I realized that the traditional Finnish sauna culture is very different to what we in Austria think would be very Finnish. The jump into the 0-degree cold water was definitely a new experience I will never forget! And I also learned that you only become friends in Finland once you have been to the sauna together.

-Birgit Bosio, Lecturer at MCI Tourism

As the project manager of the ENRICHER hubs project, I believe that building good relationships with partners, is the most critical success factor of the project. After all, it is all about people. Various live like a local experiences in partner countries during the project’s life cycle will be the valuable way of learning about different culture. Shared understanding will help us develop sustainable tourism education, and cooperation with the tourism industry in our project’s target countries Georgia and Moldova.

Erasmus+ (Capacity Building in Higher Education) project, ENRICHER hubs had its kick-off in Helsinki in February 2024. Partners from nine universities in the target countries of Moldova and Georgia as well as EU partners Italy, Austria and Finland gathered in the city to meet face-to-face and to learn about each other as well as the aims and work packages of the project. One of the main aims of the project is to enhance the competences of sustainable tourism and service design methods in the target countries.


Finnish Sauna Society. Sauna and Unesco.

Visit Finland. 2022. State of Sustainable Tourism 2022.

Picture: Shutterstock