Location data reveal summer boom for Finland's small towns

Mobile phone location data suggest that tiny Kustavi saw the biggest increase in visitors during the week after Midsummer.

Kustavi lies on the Rengastie, a scenic sightseeing route that snakes through the archipelago in southwest Finland. Image: Sergi Reboredo / Alamy / AOP

Little 1,000-inhabitant Kustavi in Finland’s southwest archipelago appears to have been the most popular destination for domestic tourists around Midsummer, according to mobile phone location data from teleoperator Telia.

During the last week of June immediately after the Midsummer holiday weekend, mobile phone data suggested a 47-percent increase in the number of people in the town compared to the same time last year.

The data collected by Telia do not reveal the movements of individual mobile phone users.

Kustavi is not the only small town that experienced a popularity boost at the start of the summer holiday season. Places like Padasjoki in the Päijät-Häme region and Vaala in Northern Ostrobothnia both saw their populations temporarily swell by 40 percent at the end of June compared to last year.

The data showed that people in Finland also enjoyed spending time in other parts of the country -- altogether 164 municipalities welcomed visitors at the beginning of the summer vacation period.

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The most popular locations during the final week of June, according to mobile phone data. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

"The numbers are amazing," Kustavi mayor Veijo Katara said in response to the data. He added that he was not really surprised because he had noticed the difference.

Katara said he believed that the biggest factor behind the situation was the coronavirus epidemic, which prompted people to go to their summer cottages and also inspired greater interest in domestic tourism.

"The weather [in the last week of June] is also better than last year, that surely made a difference," he added.

Fewer visitors flock to big cities

By contrast, large cities such as Helsinki, Tampere and Turku were all slightly less crowded in the last week of June, with location data showing 14 percent, nine percent and seven percent fewer people respectively compared to one year ago.

However by far the biggest loser turned out to be Northern Ostrobothnia’s Muhos, where 69 percent fewer people visited than last year. One reason for the stark difference could be the fact that last year Muhos hosted Suviseurat, the annual gathering of the extremely conservative Laestadian religious community.

Vantaa, which also ended up at the bottom of the table saw its population drop temporarily by 15 percent during the last week of June this year compared to last year.

Summer populations remained more or less the same in 12 municipalities this year compared to last year. One of them was Pargas (Parainen in Finnish), which is also located in the southwestern archipelago and like Kustavi, lies on the Rengastie, a popular sightseeing route that snakes through the archipelago.

The comparison is not comprehensive, however, as it does not include municipalities for which location data was not available in 2019. For example, Puumala, a popular summer cottage location in South Savo, is not listed.

How the comparison was compiled

Telia’s data set was based on how devices such as mobile phones connected to mobile networks in different locations. Phone movements create a reading when they remain in a certain municipality for at least 20 minutes during the course of one day.

If the same phone or person visits several municipalities in one day and spends at least 20 minutes in each of them, those visits will also generate a record.

The ranking was based on Telia data showing movement in different municipalities at the start of the typical summer holiday season in 2019 and 2020 and the relative change at that time.

The comparison period was the last seven days of June in 2019 and this year.