Regional cities can offer genuine pearls for tourists

Many rural tourism companies are customer-centric forerunners.
Riitta Forsten-Astikainen
Riitta Forsten-Astikainen

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented Finnish people from travelling abroad in 2020. Many were keen to travel, however, and this promoted heightened interest in different regions of Finland with their local experiences and attractions. You just had to travel, which suddenly made the offer of nearby areas interesting.

According to Visit Finland, Finnish people's motives in domestic tourism are diverse: they are drawn by attractions, nature experiences and diverse opportunities for activities, local culture, personal and local history including relevant events, people and buildings, and food and culinary traditions. In principle, these are same factors of interest that are also appreciated by foreign tourists.

The Finnish tourism industry is growing and developing, for which we can especially thank active and inventive entrepreneurs who are seeking growth and development. The tourism sector has significant impacts on the regional economy, and the role of domestic local tourism is not to be sniffed at, even if foreign tourists are making themselves scarce at the moment.

Tourism has been one of the spearheading themes of the SEUTU4 project (regional cities’ business networks). Regional cities, those agile regional hubs with thorough knowledge of the local business life, offer excellent opportunities for tourism companies. Real pearls of tourism have consequently emerged in regional cities, which the project has helped to showcase. This project funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has also promoted the nationwide networking of regional tourism operators and tourism companies.

The tourism operators involved in the project met in connection with the Travel Fair of 2020. The meeting brainstormed ideas for activities that would benefit all parties and concluded by making a decision to seek leading tourism companies that produce solutions and experiences for the needs of different tourists creatively and innovatively.

During autumn 2020, I collected good practices from 30 tourism companies in 21 regional cities concerning year-round tourism as well as responsibility and digitalisation in the tourism sector. The theme of responsibility was understood broadly as socio-cultural, economic and ecological responsibility. An electronic publication on the target companies’ best practices was produced and translated into English and Swedish.

The results will serve tourists and boost the tourism companies’ image. Many tourism companies in rural areas surprise their customers with their well-rooted local character, originality and ability to tap cultural history. Local customs and phrases as well as the use of dialect give the much-needed personal touch to marketing. Putting old buildings into new uses in the spirit of a circular economy mindset is an excellent way to emphasise responsibility in business and give a new life to a tried and trusted building. This is what people like. Many customers can slake their hunger for nostalgia.

Effective digital customer paths are favoured by tourists. Clear and informative homepages, without forgetting aesthetics and a personal touch, are an essential prerequisite for accessibility. Booking calendars and online shops are necessary complementary functions. Digitalisation offers many advantages for entrepreneurs and tourists alike: it is fast, trouble-free, easy to use and straightforward. It gives the entrepreneur more time to encounter the customer personally and without rushing. This way they can produce added value for their company and those who use its service.

Finland is a diverse and interesting tourist country. Many unique destinations may be found outside large cities, perhaps reached by following a bumpy road and an overgrown ditch bank. Once there, however, the tourist will be rewarded by a unique local company – the attractive pearl of the region!

Many tourism companies in rural areas surprise their customers with their well-rooted local character, originality and ability to tap cultural history.

Riitta Forsten-Astikainen
Project researcher and network coordinator, Microentrepreneurship Centre of Excellence MicroENTRE

This article was originally published in the newspaper Keskipohjanmaa on 28 August 2021.