Let's travel in the summer in the surrounding area "from valleys to hills”

Summer is a great time to explore your home country and do some local tourism. There are many interesting places to visit and places to stay in the Nivala, Kärsämäki and Raahe regions. Our tourism project LAKU - "From valleys to hills" - involves 33 enthusiastic entrepreneurs from the Raahe and Nivala-Haapajärvi regions. The entrepreneurs offer a wide range of tourist services: nature tours, rural lodges, cultural activities, experience tours, café and wellness services. Although the range of services offered by the entrepreneurs is wide, the values of nature tourism, such as nature-centredness, localism, responsibility, local food and individuality, are the common denominator.
ulkoilmamuseo Crazyland

New trends in tourism include "second city travel", i.e. travelling to atypical destinations at atypical times, avoiding tourist crowds, and transformative tourism, based on individual and authentic encounters. For us Finns, these trends are based on everyday things: localness, nature, local food and authentic encounters. Tourism in our region could therefore offer services to customers looking for new experiences. The challenge is how we in tourism know how to value or price baking a bun, taking a sauna in a smoke sauna or looking at the starry winter sky.

Digital scanning provides information on the attractiveness of businesses to customers

The ERDF-funded project "From valleys to hills: increasing the visibility of rural tourism through digitalisation and productisation -LAKU", launched last autumn, supports the improvement of the attractiveness, visibility, accessibility and affordability of tourism services provided by businesses. In the spring, the project carried out a digital screening of businesses, assessing the level of digitalisation of the business by evaluating the characteristics and attractiveness of the website on the basis of 17 variables. The screening is based on the customer perspective and is carried out by an external neutral body "in its capacity as a customer".

The current customer starts planning a trip by looking at the website. The service provider should bear in mind that the customer is often impatient and may not have the time to make the effort to obtain information. All the information and aspects affecting the trip should be easily accessible on the website. The company's website is the business card that creates the first impression of the service for the customer.

The screening of tourism businesses confirmed that the importance of the website has been recognised by the businesses involved in the LAKU project. In general, the websites were of a very high standard and attractive from the customer's point of view. However, the main issues to which companies should pay attention in the future are:

1. Search engine visibility: make sure that it is possible for a search engine to find your site.
2. Images: invest in images. A good picture is worth a thousand words.
3. Contacting the company: contact details should be visible almost everywhere.
4. Product packages: a branded package is easy to sell and easy for the customer to buy.

Productisation clinics to drive development work forward

After the digital screening, productisation clinics were held for interested LAKU members in May 2022. The clinics were divided into suitable products, of which
• A Ready level operator has an idea to do something, but no finished product
• A "Steady" level operator has a product that needs finishing or has problems selling it
• A "Go" level operator has a finished product but wants to finalise the product or activity

There was a lively and varied discussion during the clinic evenings. After the evening, entrepreneurs also had the opportunity to continue product development in a guided way by booking separate product development coaching sessions with Maija Piipo, who led the clinics.

Next summer, we could adventure in non-typical tourist destinations in the region, visiting local museums, cultural events and nature sites. We can also contribute to the development of small tourism businesses by providing praise and encouraging feedback!

Ulla Lehtinen, PhD, Special Researcher, MicroENTRE Microentrepreneurship Centre, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute
Kyllikki Taipale-Erävala, University Researcher, Associate Professor, MicroENTRE Microentrepreneurship Centre, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute.