Once a Viking, always a Viking

Tuula Leppälä has been serving passengers on board Viking Line ships for 38 years. At present, she works at the Info & Travel Shop in the passenger terminal in the Port of Turku.

”In the daytime, it’s quieter, but when ships arrive and depart, there’s real hustle and bustle”, says Tuula Leppälä who works at Viking Line’s Info & Travel Shop.
Industry professional

The Info & Travel Shop in the terminal is open around the year from 7.15 a.m. to 8.55 p.m., and there is always at least one customer service employee in the shop. The work is done in shifts and after six days of work, the employees have four or five days off.

The mornings and evenings are busy times when services are provided to the arriving and departing passengers. During the day there are different preparatory and clearance tasks, as well as selling of sea voyages and services related thereto.

“For a couple of hours in the morning and for three hours in the evening we have many irons in the fire: guiding customers, check-in and inspecting travel documents, assisting physically disabled people, and handing out access passes to artists and guests. In addition, we need to follow the radio traffic and video surveillance in the terminal and, as necessary, keep in touch with security guards, security control and border guards. We also look at the monitors to see when the loading starts and we can announce that embarkation has started. There are many things to do simultaneously”, Tuula Leppälä describes.

Tuula Leppälä came to Viking Line for a summer job in 1986 after completing the qualification in tourism services at the business college. “That summer was the beginning of a long and multi-stage career”, she says and chuckles.

“From the port terminal, I transferred at some point for nearly 20 years to the Viking Line travel shop in the Hansakortteli shopping centre in Turku. I missed the port atmosphere, however, and came back. When a ship arrives or departs, we are working at full speed. The work is hectic, but I like it a lot, and each day is different. To counterbalance the work I relax on my days off on hikes in the forest and by playing around with my three young grandchildren.”

”During the coronavirus pandemic I had worries bout the future, but now that two of Viking Line’s newest ships, M/S Viking Grace and M/S Viking Glory, sail on the Turku route it creates trust in the future”, Tuula Leppälä ponders.

Tuula’s years at work also included four maternity leaves and a lay-off period during the coronavirus pandemic.

“During the lay-off, I studied to become a care assistant and worked for some time in the care services. After the pandemic, I luckily got to continue working at Viking Line. ‘Once a Viking, always a Viking’. It has never occurred to me to change jobs. We have a great working community and the shipping company still maintains a strong Viking spirit.”

Demand for personal service

According to Tuula Leppälä, people still want to get personal service, although many practical matters related to a trip are now handled online. Some passengers do not use online services and even want to pay for their trip in cash.

”Difficult situations with the customers can usually be solved by listening and talking, and age and experience also help”, Tuula Leppälä says.

“In my work, I need to adapt to serve very different people, and the customer always determines how they are to be encountered. Language skills are also required, there are plenty of international passengers in the summertime in particular. In addition to Finnish, Swedish and English, I speak some German and Russian. Sometimes Google translator is needed or drawing may be the only shared language.”

“Empathy is also needed, as is the psychological skill to deal with various problem situations. Sometimes we grieve with the customers, at other times we rejoice. Sometimes the whole spectrum of human life may come up.”

During her long career, Tuula Leppälä has gotten to know many passengers and artists. Regular passengers go, for instance, on the popular bingo cruises.

“The passenger profile has changed over the years. Today, the customers expect the ship voyage to provide experiences, high-quality entertainment, good food and indulgence treatments – a little luxury amidst the daily grind”, Tuula Leppälä sums up.


Text and photos: Kirsti Helin