Last updated: 06:00 PM ET, Mon April 13 2015

Finland: A Land for All Seasons

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | April 13, 2015

Finland: A Land for All Seasons

PHOTO: The Sami are Europe’s only indigenous people. (Courtesy of Visit Finland)

Visit Finland believes 2015 will be a really strong year, even though Finland’s largest market, Russia is down some 46 percent.  Growth in other markets from Asia, Europe and the U.S. is making up for the lost Russians. Those markets were largely attracted to Finland by a growing appreciation of the destination’s soft adventure assets. Finland offers a European wilderness inhabited by the indigenous Sami people.

The Sami live in the Taiga, a ring of high northern forests that skirt the tundra of the Far North. The Arctic and the Taiga bordering it is the only remaining European wilderness area and travelers are beginning to recognize how special that is.

The Midnight Sun highlights Finland’s summer even as the winter is highlighted by the Northern Lights. The almost endless days of summer allow visitors to pursue activities into the night. “The popularity of wildlife safaris is growing strongly as travelers are beginning to appreciate what we offer up north,” said Helena Niskanen, Visit Finland’s U.S. marketing representative.

The Big Four of the Finnish Taiga would be the Brown Bear, the Lynx, the Arctic Fox, the Wolf and the Wolverine, but there are many other interesting species of Fox, Ermine, Weasel, Otters, Minks, Polecats, Flying Squirrel and the Saimaa Ringed Seal, which is unique to Lake Saimaa, the fourth largest lake in Europe. Kolovesi Retkeily rents canoes and sea-kayaks and offers independent and guided trips, both pre-planned and tailor-made, across the protected lake areas.

“In summer it’s easier to see many of these animals who often move at night even when the night is lit by the Midnight Sun,” said Niskanen. “Many wildlife safaris operate along the eastern border and the guides really know the wildlife and the environment in these areas.” Taiga Spirit offers overnight excursions that use special hides where Bears, Wolverines, White-tailed Eagles and Owls can be observed and photographed.

“The Sami have semi-independence within Finland,” said Niskanen. “They even have their own parliament.” Kamisak offers overnight Midnight Sun two-day riding tours from June 1 to Oct. 31 for groups between two and six people. The excursion includes a guide, all meals during the tour and one night’s accommodation in a cabin. The tour explores the Sami area on horseback and stays in a wilderness cabin complete with a Finnish sauna.

There are 6,500 islands in the åland Archipelago at the entrance to the Bothnian Gulf in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. Only around 65 of them are inhabited and the archipelago’s outer reaches are only accessible by boat, but with the extended daylight hours, there’s more sailing time to reach the more remote islands. Midnight Sun Sailing has a fleet of over 30 yachts with sizes varying from 26 to 51 feet, with the option of a skipper.

The Northern Lights are spurring a strong trend for winter travel. “The Northern Lights season is very long in Finland, from late September until mid-April. Between the Northern Lights and unique accommodations, like the Arctic Snow Hotel with its heated glass igloos and the Arctic Light Hotel (opening later this month) are really driving the winter market to new heights. For many travelers these are trips of a lifetime. We are even seeing honeymooners opting to stay in igloos.”

It’s not all soft adventure in Finland. Helsinki hoteliers recorded about 3.3 million overnight stays (bed nights) in 2014, about the same as 2013, despite a dip in Russian overnights of about 54 percent. Markets such as Italy, Great Britain, Germany and Japan helped offset the Russian collapse. U.S. overnights to Helsinki were up 9.2 percent. More than 420,000 cruise passengers call at Helsinki every year. “These cruise passengers often come back after a year or two as land travelers,” said Niskanen.

“We are the only Scandinavian country that’s in the Euro Zone and that should add fuel to the fire in 2015,” said Niskanen. Last year, American overnights grew 8.6 percent to 203,317. Total bed nights in Finland reached 19,779,756, a decrease of -2.3 percent, due largely to a collapse in Russian travel. Visit Finland participates in the Scandinavian Tourist Board’s Scandinavian specialist program along with VisitDenmark, Visit Norway and Visit Sweden.

The program, which is operated by Travalliance, helps agents learn how to sell Scandinavia more effectively. Right now the program has between 800 and 900 agents participating, but they hope to reach 1,500 agents. Almost 70 percent of bookings to Scandinavia come through travel agents. 

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