“So much about the future remains uncertain, but we’re taking every possible step to create an environment where visitors are safe and stay healthy”, says Kristiina Hietasaari, Head of Visit Finland. She is confident that tourism in a post-COVID world will soar again. She explains: “I have no doubt the global travel industry will recover. People are looking to return to their favourite vacation spots, only with a different approach to their journeys.”
On the tourism marketplace, Hietasaari sees trust as a much more significant issue. “Many people question whether they stay equally safe and well abroad as at home; they often worry about crowds and queues. In this sense, Finland offers the best conditions for post-pandemic travel: The country offers space, privacy, and the great outdoors. Perhaps, the most reassuring about Finland right now is the fact that social distancing to Finns comes naturally. Trust me, we’re very disciplined when waiting in line for example.”
Finland is great for adventures with a breath of fresh air because large parts of its land are covered by forests. “A common perception is that it’s too cold in Finland”, Hietasaari recognises. “The truth is that, with temperatures up to 30°C in the summer, it can get pleasantly warm. This makes Finland the perfect destination for those who wish to escape a heatwave in hotter, more southern countries.”
Above all, Finland provides a balanced mix of activities. For sport enthusiast, Finland’s hilly, forest-covered landscape create particularly suitable conditions for mountain biking; and with 10% of the country’s land area being covered by water, canoeing and kayaking are excellent ways of experiencing nature, together with water jet safaris. Hietasaari says: “On their return, visitors to Finland will tell stories about a peaceful week they spent in a summer cottage by a secluded lake with a private beach that allowed them to swim in refreshing lake water.”
She continues: “Besides having turned on the barbeque grill in a wood fire hut, visitors to Finland will typically remember the clean waters of our Lakeland district.
At the many lakeshore places, they will have tasted creamy salmon soup and Karelian pasties at the local market. They will also have spoken with local people, to find out about life in Finland. Before flying out from the Helsinki Airport, they will have strolled along the main shopping street in the city centre, to take home some finish design as a souvenir. Those with children, will of course have visited the Moominworld theme park.”
Listing the many memories visitors to Finland can create, Hietasaari is confident that, in post-COVID tourism, the country is well-positioned to cater for new wishes and changed attitudes of travellers. “Finland has a strong ability to compete in the global travel marketplace also in the longer term”, she asserts. “We score high in many categories and wish to keep the momentum by integrating environmentally friendly practices into tourism. The more sustainable our travel and tourism industry becomes, the stronger we will grow.”
To live up to this claim, Finland has introduced a scheme for awarding the Sustainable Travel Finland label to businesses fulfilling certain environmental criteria. “We also award regions with eco-labels”, says Hietasaari. “If more than 51% of businesses in one destination have received the Sustainable Travel Finland label, then the entire destination qualifies for one.”
She explains that Finland focuses on collective commitment. “Not only are we concerned about individual businesses, but we’d like entire regions to do sustainable business. This way, we make sure there are no weak links in the ecosystem, where one or two key players would not be committing to the environmental cause.” All this gives Hietasaari confidence about what the future will bring. “We’re even introducing a calculator for travel providers to measure the ecological footprint of their guests”, she reveals.
When people think of Finland, they often associate it with Santa Claus, sauna, swimming in icy water, and the Northern Lights. However, there are other options outside the realm of leisure travel. “Parents can send their children to Finland for summer camp, where their little ones are offered high-quality education in natural surroundings,” Hietasaari explains. “With us, they are free to spend time in fresh air while learning at the same time.”
She also describes the concept of health traveling: “Finns enjoy top-quality health care services. With people paying extra attention to their well-being, I could imagine patients to choose Finland for their next place of treatment.”
For the fourth year running, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world – even during the COVID crisis. Hietasaari explains: “We Finns are very easy-going and down to earth; literally. We value being close to nature and are eager to share this purifying experience with the world. We want our guests to feel happy when they come to Finland and truly believe that visiting us will give people a fresh perspective on life!”
EDITOR: Nora Fritzsche