St. Thomas Market. Photo: Jussi Hellsten

Helsinki is a pioneer in safe tourism

Helsinki aims to be the world’s most sustainable and smartest tourist destination. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged tourism operators in an unprecedented way, with safety becoming an increasingly important part of responsible tourism in the future. To promote safety, Helsinki, together with an extensive network of partners, has developed a new model for regional management of safety in tourism.

Safety requires actions and communication

For the tourists, safety means that they do not have to pay attention to it. When travellers feel safe, they can travel without worry. For the employees and operators in the tourism industry, safety means that they can carry out their work in a secure environment and according to their respective roles. Safety concerns everybody in the city, from tourists and industry professionals to residents.

“With the coronavirus pandemic, the need for health safety measures became the focus of the tourism business. One of our goals is to speed up the recovery of Helsinki tourism from the crisis,” says Nina Vesterinen, Tourist Director of the City of Helsinki.

Safety requires guidelines and coherent communication. Compliance with safety practices and preparing for new threats requires continuous alertness and a proactive approach from the companies. In response to this, Helsinki has created a safety handbook for tourism to provide comprehensive safety information and guidance for operators in the sector. Helsinki has also prepared a plan for the development of the City’s safety management, in which the existing safety structures are examined from the tourist’s perspective.

Safety is part of the journey, from the choosing of the destination and planning to the sharing of experiences after the trip. Travellers always interact with many services, sites and people along the way – each of which affects the sense of security the traveller experiences. This is why Helsinki has decided to bring together a wide range of such operators.

Helsinki develops safety together with partners

One of the most significant achievements of the project is the mapping of a comprehensive safety and security network. It was made easier by the fact that the basis for the cooperation already existed. The next step is to create a more closely-knit network. Cooperation between the City, companies, authorities and other safety and security actors has gained new momentum and clear operating models during the project.

“Nothing was broken when we started the project. Helsinki already had a well-deserved image as a safe travel destination, and we set out to build on it,” says Project Manager Sanni Liimatta.

One way to identify areas for improvement were workshops aimed at the operators in the sector. The wish for minimum requirements for safety, for example, came directly from tourism operators. The minimum requirements are now included in the so-called levels of safety described in the safety handbook for Helsinki tourism operators.

Besides the handbook, a real-time Heatmapwebsite providing a visual presentation of tourism hot spots was created as part of the project. The site shows the congestion situation in Helsinki’s main tourist areas, attractions and services, colour-coded in the map view with an accuracy to the minute. Heatmap has been received with great interest, and it got a lot of publicity when it was launched. The website will be further developed based on feedback and information collected. Possible future applications for Heatmap are being considered, such as how to utilise the site in organising events or planning recreational areas.

Safety will be a competitive advantage in the future

The model for the development and management of safe tourism created by the City of Helsinki can be used not only to recover from the coronavirus pandemic but also to prepare for future crises. Investing in safety and security also brings economic benefits by increasing the city’s attractiveness and attracting new tourists to the region. Increasing safety does not usually cost much but can be very profitable.  Small actions and investments are often enough to achieve the goal. The benefits of safety work are directly reflected in the number of tourists and the quality of tourism.

In the post-pandemic world, safety can be a significant asset and attraction factor. Therefore, Helsinki has here a good opportunity to take a pioneering role in the tourism market. The City’s goal has been set high: Helsinki is to be the safest capital city for tourists in the world in 2030.

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News photo: Safety is an essential concern when organising events. St. Thomas Market (“Tuomaan markkinat”) organised this year at the Helsinki Market Square from 27 November to 22 December is expected to attract many visitors. Image: Jussi Hellsten