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Hold Your Heads Up High, Ladies and Gentlemen!
You! Yes, you there, walking along the streets in the city centre, eyes pointed down, staring at your smart phone, trying to figure out where the Pokémon creatures might be hiding. Keep your head up high instead! Perhaps you are then able to see how beautiful the ordinary life around you really is, how tempting the nature around you actually is. Make your scores instead by breathing the fresh air into your lungs, get your blood to circulate fast in your veins and feel…relaxed.
To my mind, the very characteristic for this summer has been the amazing publicity of this Pokémon GO App. I have to admit that to me it looks very funny to see young and not-so-young people running around the parks, city centres and graveyards, almost getting killed by cars – only because of the chase of those thrilling creatures.
In mid-August, my wife and I jumped on a boat and visited the famous Suomenlinna island in Helsinki. Low angle view of the sun shining through clouds beaming in the eyes, a bright sun poured a flood of crystal light upon the sea. While looking around the fellow travellers, I found out that their interests were, more or less, somewhere else than in the beautiful scenery during the 10-minute boat trip - they were nervously waiting for the boat to hit the harbour so that they could run up to the cliffs of the island, to search for the Pokémon creatures again…
Please, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the phenomenon. In fact, I’d like to congratulate the game developers for their success. This got me thinking “How could I come up with something as interesting to attract international tourists to visit the region of Kainuu as enthusiastically?”
I’d like to thank the Regional Mayor of Kainuu, Mr. Pentti Malinen, for throwing a challenge to me in his previous blog, asking to write down my own thoughts about tourism and the meaning of tourism industry for the whole Kainuu. The number of overnight stays in Kainuu is as high as 1.3 million annually – the visitors cannot be wrong! There have to be reasons, especially for those returning back again, year after year.
Could the all-year-round tourism be the key? Having clearly different four seasons is something that attracts tourists from other countries. In various parts of Europe e.g. the winters have become warmer and warmer, year by year. Just imagine if Father Christmas couldn’t visit the kids with his sledge, due to the lack of snow.
It’s true that the nature and especially the light around us in northern parts of Finland is quite unique. Once I had to explain to a Commission gentleman, who was hesitating whether to have the international congress taking place in Kainuu or in Greece: “Why should we have our congress in a place where the winter is so long, cold and dark that people aren’t able to survive outdoors. On the other hand, the summer nights are so bright that no one is able to sleep. Why, tell me why should we come? How can someone survive over there?” I had to think for a few seconds and then I replied: “You know in Kainuu, in the summertime, when the nights are bright and the sun is shining, we Finns and people in Kainuu, we tend to fish and make love. But during the cold and dark winter -- we do not fish so much.” For some reason… the congress took place in Kainuu.
Could it be the style of our service providers in the tourism sector in Northern Finland and how they take care of their visitors, that attracts the tourists? I do agree, the restaurant service in Spain or in Italy is much faster than in Finland. But does it still lack a personal touch of Finnish spirit, asking a customer to stay with you and to enjoy the meal, instead of pushing him or her to leave ASAP – there are so many customers waiting and willing to bring their money to the restaurant.
In Visit Finland campaigns, Finland is marketed with the slogan “Silence, please”. Perhaps the silence isn’t that attractive for a person from Kainuu, as we are blessed with the silence almost everywhere and every day. But for those, who are coming from Beijing, Athens, Rome or St. Petersburg, the sound of traffic and noise in general, is present all day long. You can’t really escape from it. It’s nice to see the tourists from these kinds of places arriving to Kainuu with a smile on their face.
There is no reason for them to shout out: “Silence, please!“. Visitors from China have also said to me on our way from Kajaani airport to Vuokatti: “Oh, how nice it is to see so far away from the windows– there are no high skyscrapers to hide the scenery!” These kinds of details we Finns are not able to imagine to be as attractions for foreign visitors.
Could it be some other reason? Is it the safe and easy everyday life that attracts visitors? In Kainuu if you lose your wallet, mobile phone or your keys, you don’t necessarily loose/lose them for good. Just contact the police station’s lost and found, and you’ll most probably be surprised - your lost goods are waiting for you there, brought in by a total stranger. I’ve seen this happen so many times.
For visitors from Japan especially, the local ordinary everyday life is something they expect when visiting foreign destinations. For example, visiting a Finnish summer cottage and having dinner with the local host family at the terrace by the lake is something very unique and interesting for them.
Those things are more or less very typical for Kainuu. The question is raised: is there really any particular reason for creating artificially, new services or tourism packages to attract international guests to Kainuu? Would it be enough just to be as we are, offering unique, everyday things that are here already? Would it be enough for us just to keep our heads up high, see the interesting life around us and value the good, already existing qualities of our homeland?
Would the future in the tourism business in Kainuu offer the frame that we are hoping, would the accessibility of the region remain and even develop further to include straight flights from other parts of the world? Personally, I am confident that the Asian destinations will open a new era for the tourism of Kainuu. The vision I have is that foreign visitors are amazed by the ordinary life of our region, the local entrepreneurs are excited to learn new cultures and to do their best to achieve the customer’s satisfaction. I am sure that both the visitors and the entrepreneurs know that this definitely was not their last visit to Kainuu.
Hold your heads up high, ladies and gentlemen - the beginning of a whole new era for the Kainuu tourism is fast approaching!
In the end, I’d like to throw a challenge to continue this subject for one of my colleagues, Ms. Yu Dai, originally from China, to determine whether my assumptions are correct. Additionally, it would be interesting to know what are the true expectations from the Asian tourists on Kainuu’s tourism products and services, and what is on their mind when they plan on visiting Arctic Europe?