Photo: Miguel Sanz Castedo, Madrid’s regional director of tourism, explored Lonna Island wearing a virtual reality headset.
Helsinki has hosted an important tourism industry event, the annual meeting of the international World Tourism Cities Federation (WTCF) network. The event attracted about 500 international participants. A large share of them were Chinese.
Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori is pleased with the fact that it was possible to have the network meeting take place in Helsinki. The city gained visibility and Helsinkian tourism businesses were able to show off their services.
– Only less than 10 per cent of the Chinese own a passport. The tourism potential is enormous, and it is terrific that we are able to assert Helsinki so well from the viewpoint of tourism, Vapaavuori said.
According to a visitor survey by Visit Finland, specifically the Chinese are the tourists who spend the most money. In the last five years, the Chinese doubled their volume of overnight stays at accommodations in Helsinki.
Vapaavuori thinks that Helsinki and Finland have better learned to understand the wishes and needs of Chinese tourists.
Jan Vapaavuori reiterates that Helsinki has been a pioneer of the Asian tourism market. The first commercial flight from China to Europe was the route between Beijing and Helsinki.
Laura Aalto, CEO of the Helsinki Marketing city marketing company, is on her part happy about the fact that it was possible to make sustainable tourism and the effort to develop it the themes of the international event.
– We here in Helsinki have fared well; winning the European Capital of Smart Tourism 2019 competition is already a sign of that. We won it together with Lyon.
Laura Aalto is convinced that during the Helsinki event the cooperation with the international network became yet closer and was raised to a new level.
Aalto thinks that it is important for Helsinki to be able to disseminate its ideas and talk about what it is doing for sustainable tourism. The Think Sustainably web service on the MyHelsinki.fi pages was put online this summer and has attracted international attention.
Emphasis on e-services
The role of the cities as trendsetters for developing tourism and the great importance of cooperation were topics that were pointedly present in the addresses during the event. Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart, who talked about Talsinki comprising Helsinki and Tallinn, was one case in point.
– Cooperation brings success. Together, Tallinn and Helsinki are bigger and have a greater impact, Kõlvart asserts.
Tallinn joined the WTCF network last year. Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart, centre, poses together with the representatives of the cities that joined the network this year.
WTCF secretary-general Song Yu used statistics to introduce the importance of tourism. Last year, more than 1.3 billion trips abroad were made, and journeys made by Chinese rose in particular.
He underlined smartness as a growing trend in tourism and emphasised that tourism that stresses smart solutions does not evolve without a strong input from cities.
Professor Li Yuonpeng, an expert at WTCF, talked about a report for which Chinese travellers had been asked about their expectations concerning the travel destination.
– Smart apps are among the prerequisites. Guidebooks, tickets and payment services should be digital. Working Wi-Fi connections on location are important.
Present were also companies that produce smart solutions. Kaj Pyyhtiä, who represented the MaaS Global company that has developed the Whim mobility app, points out that tourism is turning increasingly individual.
– Tourists want to experience the kind of things that the locals do and know what the locals favour themselves.
It is a big advantage when also individual tourism is safe and easy and when practical matters may be handled using an app on the phone.
Pyyhtiä commended the City of Helsinki on being a pioneer of open data. By opening up its data, the municipality generates opportunities for partners to create new services.
Kaj Pyyhtiä says that even Chinese tourism is becoming increasingly individual.
Friendly inhabitants are an asset to Helsinki
At Finlandia Hall, cities that are part of the network had a chance to present their respective assets. There was a line to Helsinki’s stand, since people were there able to try virtual reality headsets and as-it-were visit a Finnish-style furnished home and Lonna Island as it appears in the summer and in the winter.
Marja-Leena Rinkineva, director of economic development, said that a big plus for Helsinki that helps it attract international travellers is, among other things, the clean air and the compact size of the city.
– Helsinki is for many foreigners an astonishing experience. You travel only twenty minutes from the city centre and you will find yourself deep in the forest landscape or out at sea completely at peace.
She hoped that a genuine spirit of Helsinki would be transmitted to the participants of the event.
Marja-Leena Rinkineva hopes that the international crowd of participants will carry with them a memorable experience.
This is what actually happened, at the very least in the words of WTCF assistant secretary Li Baochun. He visited Helsinki for the first time in the 1990’s.
Li Baochun predicts that in the future Chinese travellers will stay in Helsinki for even longer periods. The city is friendly and its services are of high quality.
His accolades for the city amounted to a small lecture. Among other things, he praised the beauty of the city, the diversity of its culture, its suitability and facilities for winter sports, its technological skills, its good connections and the friendliness of the Helsinkians.
Original text in Finnish: Kirsi Riipinen
Photos: Ilkka Ranta-aho