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Kainuu – a Great Slice of Finland at its most Typical

Thanks Tuomo for throwing the challenge to me to continue with this subject. I have been working for a regional development project to promote Kainuu region (Vuokatti-Kajaani-Oulujärvi) as a tourism destination in China. During this one-year pilot project, 5 FAM trips were organized and 19 Chinese tour operators and media delegates were invited to Kainuu. The overall impression they have about Kainuu is peace and a wonderland for nature and sports lovers, and ideal for family vacations, but the challenge is that it is not yet known as a tourism destination to the Chinese.

Big market, big opportunities

Chinese travellers are the biggest spenders per trip in Finland and a total of 182,000 overnight stays were recorded for Chinese in 2015, which represents a 40% increase on the previous year. In Spring 2016, 13 new visa centres were opened in China to support this trend.

Finland is a destination that tends to mainly attract the more experienced Chinese travellers and many of them have previous ties to Europe. Chinese travellers are in the habit of travelling in groups with the intention to see and experience as much as possible, in as short time as possible. They first visit the global landmarks, and after that they look for more in-depth travel experiences. They also look for destinations where others haven’t visited yet. Most of them are highly satisfied with their travel experience in Finland because of the view and the Nordic life-style they admire.

Unexplored resort with lots of potential

China Business Herald newspaper states “In Kainuu, you can go skiing, fishing and enjoy the simple pleasures. You can also do nothing, just simply laze on the shores of the vast lake and watch the sky to embrace the peace and escape from the noise and the crowds.” The Chinese tour operators and media delegates were highly satisfied with their experience in Kainuu and they perceive Kainuu as an unexplored virgin resort with lots of potential. Some of them recall “There is nothing better than jumping into a cold lake after each round in the sauna. Once you try it, you will get addicted!“ What’s more, the travel blogger enjoyed picking up the berries and by sharing this experience on his blog, over 370,000 reads were received –  within a day!

Chinese travellers look for unique experiences, they want to travel and live like locals. As they become wealthier they travel greater distances for those experiences. The challenge is that they have little knowledge about Kainuu and they don’t know what to see and experience here. Luckily, most Chinese don’t know what they need, so we could let them know how wonderful the winter sports and the scenery is in Kainuu by creating a Finnish winter atmosphere that is different from China. It’s essential to market the region by building a unique destination image and to present a true local atmosphere.

For example, Rovaniemi brands itself as Santa Claus’ hometown that attracts fast growing numbers of Chinese travellers. In addition to Santa Claus, the Northern Lights acts as a magnet for waves of Chinese travellers to Lapland. In other words, the Chinese are not attracted to Lapland for its downhill skiing, but to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness, to meet Santa Claus and to witness the natural wonder of Northern Lights.

All the above activities can be experienced in Kainuu as well, but how Kainuu positions itself to stand out from the crowd is worth thinking about. Additionally, Chinese have unique needs and travel habits that need to be understood and catered for. They love stories and sharing their experience. How could we boost the story telling and experience sharing to make Kainuu more attractive and exciting?

New challenge, New opportunity

The Chinese online travel platform Alitrip is planning to carry 50,000 Chinese travellers to Rovaniemi in 2017. This huge number poses a challenge to the province as they don’t have enough capacity to accommodate all visitors. However, if the total number of Chinese travellers is evenly distributed throughout the year, there will be enough capacity.

Currently, seasonality is a big challenge for Finnish Lapland as it has the strong dominance of winter tourism rather than year-round offerings. The growth of Lapland tourism has triggered new investments (public and private) and one of the concrete investment activities is the construction of new hotels to house more visitors. Investment opportunities will also continue to emerge. Destinations further north in Lapland such as Kittilä, Saariselkä, Ivalo and Inari also see a sharp increase in international visitors this winter. Other regions might receive beneficial spatial spillovers through the thriving tourism industry in their neighbours. Could this give Kainuu a chance to grab its share of the market?

In Kainuu, there is plenty of unexplored potential in tourism – also from the real estate perspective. Could Kainuu’s real estate investment opportunities spark investors’ interest? Could the ‘Golden Visa’ programme open doors for international investors and facilitate further investments to Kainuu? Would that open a new chapter for Kainuu?

 

Shall we challenge someone young and international next and give a voice to those with desire to express their views?

Yu Dai
Destination Manager, China
Kainuun Etu Oy

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