Nowadays it is all about reinvention. The travel industry is welcoming senior guides
16 December 2022
Life comes with no instructions. And usually, game rules change over time. How to reinvent yourself in senior age becomes the question of the lifetime. “Everything is suitable for adults! I took my bus driving test at the age of 70 and my guide test at the age of 65. U3A's course on cultural heritage is beneficial for me in guidance. And I haven't stopped - I'm still keeping an eye on all that's available on the learning platform called “Warehouse of Opportunities” (Vöruhús Tækifæranna)", says an energetic Icelander and her smile shines through the screen. So here we are - sharing the most appealing insights on the power of time and humans by the guide Birna Halldorsdottir, who previously managed important missions with the Red Cross organisation.
After a period of 25 years working intermittently for the Red Cross, she had to pivot. The reason? It is strictly tied to the public sector and workforce. In Iceland, it is not allowed to work in a public organisation after 67, but it is 65 for those working abroad for the Red Cross. It leaves people with that hard question: “What’s next?”
“During the missions, I was administering distributions of food and non-food items in unstable zones located in Africa as well as in natural disaster areas like Indonesia after the Tsunami and Haiti after the earthquake. In continuation of the aid and support we provided, it was also assisting in investing in the locals’ gardens and water supply systems”, says Birna.
The Red Cross crew was responsible for making life in Africa self-sufficient. The Icelander and her colleagues worked with the local specialists and taught them the best way to plant gardens, grow crops, and arrange concrete wells to have a constant source of usable water. “During unstable circumstances, we have worked with the local people on how we and later they can support each other”, concludes Birna.
This job has a lot of expertise in management areas, but most of all, it has an impact on becoming resilient and developing a positive attitude toward life. “No matter where you are, you have local people, your assistant, local coordinators. You rely on them. And for them it is important that we are feeling safe in the area”, notes the Icelander.
She believes there is no magic formula for recruiting the right people with whom you can change the world. The thing is the attitude and language skills. During her missions in Africa, the former coordinator came into an already existing working environment and support systems. But when she had to recruit people, the focus was given to the language skills, both the local and English language, and the ambition of the person to be a team player.
“We are guests in other countries, so it means, when we are working, we have to adapt to the culture. We come for a reason not to change but to work with the locals in the best way to support them. So, it means we do make a change by working together”, emphasises the Icelander.
When it comes to her big pivot and shift towards guiding experience, she smiles and thinks that it all was a bit predicted. The eagerness to show the beauty of the native country is in her blood. Back then, as a girl scout, she travelled with them, the school and her parents a lot. Now she is guiding the school groups and arranging the recreational activities for the youngsters who are the same age as her grandchildren.
“After 65 I had to do something else, I could not just stop. In between my missions with the Red Cross, I was organising tours for my foreign friends in Iceland. I always liked organising trips, so it was obvious that I would do this. Iceland is a small country but has a big variety of nature and it makes us very fortunate. I just want to show the beauty of contrasts we have”, says Birna.
She reaches her customers with the help of a travel agency. For her, it is a mixed group of seniors and young adults. “When it comes to having a longer tour when you are together, take that into consideration what to do, they are not as quick as teenagers. Not forcing them, you have to be more flexible about the tour activities we are doing and how we are doing”, Icelander explains.
She has only one piece of advice for those seniors who meet a crossroads - consider the fact there are always ups and downs no matter what we choose. We have to enjoy life with all its colours much more when we do not hesitate to do the things we like to do when the opportunity comes. Birna is open to them. That is also one reason she uses digital tools, such as the online courses platform “Warehouse of Opportunities” to find out more about life and expand her competencies.
"Stories like these prove that being curious, and seeking new experiences open pathways to new meaning and positive emotions. I am glad that in the fast-changing world of technology we are paying more and more attention to solutions for different age groups", says Vaiva Kelmelytė, the representative of the Erasmus+ project "eSilver Tour" in Lithuania, and a project expert at Tech-Park Kaunas. The initiative, which brings together the international communities of France, Portugal and Greece, strengthens the digital competences of organisations bringing together seniors and silver tourism professionals.