New boost for nature tourism in Northern Ostrobothnia from industrial tourism?

The best thing about project work is the opportunities it brings for different encounters and, through them, for learning and insights. The discussions are very rewarding: we meet some of the best tourism entrepreneurs in the region and hear about their services and products. In the context of the UMBR-ELLA and LAKU projects, we travelled together to Poland, to Warsaw and Poznan, to meet potential partners in the provision of tourism services. These meetings made me realize how much Northern Ostrobothnia has to offer in terms of quality to meet the growing interest of international tourists, especially in nature tourism and experiences. Industrial tourism is also a growing trend.
naisia keskustelemassa toimistossa
During a networking trip to Poznan, Poland, we visited the Kiribati Club with representatives of a Polish travel agency. On the right Sirpa Törmä, Tonttu Tärmön paja Oy. Photo: Katariina Ala-Rämi

Out of Visit Finland's major tourism regions (Helsinki Region, Lapland, Lake Finland and the coastal and archipelago region), all the other major regions, with their own strengths, extend to Northern Ostrobothnia, except Helsinki Region. Yet, the Oulu region also offers an urban experience. We told Polish tour operators that Northern Ostrobothnia is a bit like Finland in miniature: you can experience Lapland, shopping, a wide range of activities, fells, lakes and seas, forests, culture, and the peace of nature in a way that allows you to make a day trip to any of these.

According to statistics compiled by the Regional Council of Northern Ostrobothnia, the total number of nights spent in accommodation establishments in the region was approximately 1.89 million in 2022 (forecast). The number of overnight stays was at the level of the previous year. Although domestic tourists account for around 85% of this figure and foreign tourists for 15%, overnight stays by domestic tourists fell by 8% and those by foreign tourists increased by 116%. Last year, Northern Ostrobothnia's market share of all overnight stays in Finland was 8.6% (10.8% in 2021), 9.6% (11.5% in 2021) of domestic overnight stays and 5.4% (5.9% in 2021) of foreign overnight stays (source: Northern Ostrobothnia Regional Council). So, although international tourists are already finding their way here in increasing numbers, only a fraction of the potential is being used. So how to attract international tourists?

The fresh breeze of industrial tourism

Many of us have experienced some form of industrial tourism, although the word may be new. You may have visited a farm, a brewery, a winery, or a candy factory. Industrial tourism is a growing trend whereby the industries of a region are packaged and sold as services and products to tourists, creating interesting places to visit and experiences to enjoy.

On the other hand, traditional business visits are not going away; it is important to meet customers face-to-face to build and maintain trust, and they also need to see the products for themselves. On the other hand, business visitors need accommodation, meals, and other services when they come to visit partner companies. Cooperation between businesses in the tourism area makes it easy to buy a full range of services. This benefits both the company, which does not have to spend its time creating a program for its guests, and the companies providing the services, which can concentrate primarily on serving their customers.

The best way to satisfy customers, both for the visit and for the partner companies, is to have experts who can draw on the history and strengths of the region and deliver services that reflect the customer's values. A memorable shared experience creates a good basis for customer relations. For example, those interested in ecological building solutions can be expected to value naturalness, ecology, and other environmental values. An example of a successful international industrial tourism destination would be the Pudasjärvi Log Capital, which could be used both in Pudasjärvi and more generally in Northern Ostrobothnia to attract tourists to the area. In this case, it is important that services are available that allow for a significant increase in the number of tourists.

The NOHEVA project is developing wood construction as an international tourist destination

Industrial tourism is therefore one part of a diversified tourism field, where tourism is used to package an experiential experience for a group of customers, including not only accommodation and restaurant services, but also activities and experiences. University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute has launched the "NOHEVA – Low-carbon crisis preparedness from wooden construction and tourism" project, which aims to support the development of the region as a pioneer of wood construction and an international destination.

A network of timber construction companies has already started its activities and a network of tourism companies will be set up in autumn 2023 with the aim of promoting cooperation between companies to create tourism packages suitable for different user groups (sustainability, nature, silence, authenticity) and piloting them (Finland, Poland, Baltics).

In building these tourist packages, it makes sense to bear in mind the national selling points of Finland, as defined by Visit Finland, which will enable us to stand out from other countries and encourage tourists to make their choice.

There are six of these national selling points, which are:
- Happiness - live like a Finn
- Forests - a genuine connection with nature
- Sauna - the essence of Finnishness
- Santa Claus - an ambassador of Finnish goodwill
- The land of thousands of lakes
- Freedom to travel and move - healthily and safely

Author: Katariina Ala-Rämi, PhD, Senior Researcher, University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute