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Finland turns to virtual tourism due to pandemic

Three of four virtual tours to Finland have already sold out, with Japanese tourists paying 20 euros a head for the trip.

Näkymä keväiselle Saimaalle Lappeenrannan sataman kohdalta.
The virtual travellers will explore the beautiful Saimaa lake region in early June. Image: Mikko Savolainen / Yle

Finnish tourism destinations are turning to virtual tourism to get around travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The first virtual tourists from Japan are already set to visit the Savonlinna region in eastern Finland in June. The same group of about 20 people will then head to the Saimaa region, also in the east, on 6 June.

None of the travellers will in reality be anywhere near these destinations -- instead, they will participate from their homes via a video link and will harness the wonders of livestreams, 360-degree videos and photographs to enjoy their travel experiences.

Japanese entrepreneur Yukie Tonuma of Eco Conscious Japan and Finnish business owner Mari Pennanen of SaimaLife collaborated to organise the virtual trips.

"The journey will last two hours but it will cover two days and one night in Saimaa," Pennanen said.

The groups will take a virtual flight from Japan to Finland before continuing by train to Saimaa. Although they will have a packed programme in Savonlinna and Punkaharju, there will also be some down time, Pennanen said.

New ways to explore places

Research director Juho Pesonen of the University of Eastern Finland’s business school said that virtual tours provide a new way to explore cultures, places and people.

"People don’t need to leave their homes so it is an environmentally-friendly way to get to know new places," he said.

Pesonen said that he hoped the coronavirus crisis could provide a much-needed spark to get the virtual travel business off the ground. He noted that up to now, they had mostly been used as a marketing tool to encourage people to visit destinations.

The Japanese tourists will pay 2,500 yen or 20 euros a head for their visit to Finland.

Penannen said that Japanese culture is particularly suited to virtual travel. "It is very natural for them to imagine what things look like in reality. That may be why we were able to sell the first tours to the Japanese," she added.

Pesonen expressed a similar view, noting that the Japanese are known to be quick to adopt new technologies. At the same time, they are interested in Finnish nature, he added.

Other Nordic tours completed

The Japanese tourists who’ll be visiting Finland in June are not newcomers to the virtual travel scene. They have already visited Denmark and Norway from the comfort of their homes.

"It’s a big challenge for us travel package planners and providers to put together the images, atmosphere and content. But it is a positive challenge for us," Pennanen said.

Research chief Pesonsn said that a live connection is a welcome development because social interaction is important on virtual tours because guides, locals and visitors form a close relationship for the course of the journey.

"If this coronavirus epidemic continues, then this could become something major," Pesonen said.

Earlier this month, the Ministry for Employment and the Economy estimated that tourism spending in Finland had plummeted by up to 70 percent or the equivalent of 10 billion euros.

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