Helsinki by the sea. Photo: Eetu Ahanen, My Helsinki Material Bank.

Helsinki’s best-ever tourism year 2017

What kind of travellers came and visited Helsinki last year? How many overnight stays were recorded? How did Helsinki do in the competition against the other Scandinavian capitals? A report (Helsingin matkailuvuosi 2017) by Pekka Mustonen, a Special Researcher at Helsinki City Executive Office, analyses tourism in Helsinki in 2017 from many perspectives.

Last year, tourism growth in Helsinki was among the strongest in Europe. In the other Scandinavian capitals, tourism increased more slowly. In terms of foreigners’ overnight stays, for example, increase in Helsinki was in a league of its own. Yet Stockholm is still the unthreatened number one in Scandinavia in terms of overnight stays overall.

Thus, Helsinki is interesting – at least judging from the unprecedented numbers of air passengers and overnight stays. These last few years, overnight stay statistics for both Finland as a whole and for Helsinki have shown high numbers of Russians, and now their proportion was around nine per cent in Helsinki. After a trough in 2014-2016, Russian overnight stays are now, importantly, back in a rising trend. In addition, Japanese overnight stays have continued to increase steadily, while also a more recent trend – growing numbers of Chinese overnight stays – has been rising strongly.  Besides Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden are in the top five, making up the solid basis of foreign overnight stays in Helsinki. From the angle of sustainable tourism, this is very welcome indeed. Helsinki is not too dependent on just one or two countries in this respect.

Is the accommodation capacity sufficient?

With recent strong growth in tourism in Helsinki, there has been much talk about accommodation capacity in Helsinki and whether it is large enough. In 2017, there were 77 registered accommodation establishments in Helsinki, of which 69 were hotels. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area as a whole, there were 101 accommodation establishments. Recently, alternative forms of accommodation such as Airbnb have become increasingly popular all over the world. According to indicative figures, monthly Airbnb accommodation amounted to a maximum of 2,400 homes and around 500 private rooms (in August) in Helsinki in 2017. Thus maximally, the aggregate Airbnb capacity in Helsinki has reached almost 3,000 accommodations. The occupancy rate of Airbnb accommodation was steadily over 50 per cent, with a peak of almost 80 per cent in August.

According to Helsinki’s City Strategy, the most important task of the city authorities is to ensure sustainable growth. From the angle of tourism, this means that the three most important dimensions of sustainable development, namely ecology, socio-cultural values and economic sustainability, must be accounted for. Tourism promotion has many dimensions. It is not just about determined efforts to raise statistic figures but, especially, about developing the conditions for tourism and – in a broader sense – consolidating the city’s international profile and seeing to its interests. If a city is well-functioning and a good place to live for residents, it is so for visitors, too. At the same time, of course, many services and infrastructural projects sparked by tourism are often of use and pleasure to locals as well.

“2017 was an exceptional record year in tourism in Helsinki. The report gives a good picture of how the increase came about. I am particularly glad that tourism growth here is on stable ground. People come to Helsinki from a lot of countries, and the balance between work-related travel and leisure tourism is good,” says Laura Aalto, a CEO at Helsinki Marketing.

Read more in Finnish:

Helsingin matkailuvuosi 2017 (Pdf.)

Helsingin matkailuvuosi 2017 (ISSUU)

Helsingin matkailun tiekartta (Pdf.)