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Finland's tourism industry braces for a lean summer

Up to 80 percent of hotels in Finland closed up shop when demand crashed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Kesäinen näkymä Saimaalta Lappeenran satamaan.
Boaters out and about at the Lappeenranta harbour in southeast Finland. Image: Kari Kosonen / Yle

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made holidaymakers take note of the risks related to overseas travel. As a result many are taking a more cautious approach to vacation planning or altogether cancelling trips this year.

"Travellers will not go on vacation before they are once more confident that they will be safe," noted Timo Lappi, chair of the Finnish Hospitality Association, Mara.

Lappi added that customers are now getting an enhanced sense of security by checking all stages of their trips in advance and by ensuring that they book all related services online before their journeys. For example, southeast Finland tourism marketing agency GoSaimaa said that it has noticed an increase in the number of travel searches seeking more detailed information about a destination.

"People have more time to plan. They are no longer taking unplanned trips like [they did] before," said GoSaimaa chair Anne Kaarnijärvi.

Fewer trips, pricier flights

Airlines said that they have also observed a change in passengers' reservation behaviour. Latvian carrier airBatlic estimated that travellers in central Europe are currently looking for uncrowded locations where they can vacation safely.

"This summer people want to travel from central Europe to countries like Finland and Latvia, where there is plenty of space and which have not been as badly affected by the disease. Crowded Mediterranean beach destinations will have their turn in the coming years," airBaltic CEO Martin Gauss commented.

Gauss speculated that there will be less air travel in the years ahead, but that the average price of flying will rise. He conjectured that central Europeans will not begin travelling to Finland until August and September, once overseas air travel gradually begins to recover -- unless the number of coronavirus infections suddenly begins to rise again, prompting a new round of travel restrictions.

Good summer for cottage owners

Since people will be looking to avoid large crowds during their vacations, the demand for local summer cottage rentals has skyrocketed, especially in the Saimaa region in the southeast and the Päijänne region in central Finland.

"This summer Finns will spend time at the cottage. Since everyone doesn't have a cottage it will be an excellent market for cottage rentals," Mara's Lappi noted.

Lomarengas, the largest cottage rental broker in Finland, said that locals have been booking cottage rentals at pretty much the same pace as in the past. It noted that families that have never before rented summer homes have also joined the market. However there have been few reservations from Russians and other foreigners.

"Expectations are high for summer, although the regular reservations season begins in May, when people firm up their summer vacation times," Lomarengas CEO Juha-Pekka Olkkala said.

The firm has about 4,000 cottages on its listings, most of which are located in Finland's lake district, which covers a large portion of the eastern and central part of the country. It also offers seaside cottages.

Domestic travellers to save the day

According to Mara, up to 80 percent of hotels in Finland closed up shop when demand crashed as a result of the coronavirus crisis earlier this year. Meanwhile the establishments that remained open have only had a utilisation rate of a few percent. Many will test the waters by re-opening at the beginning of June.

"If holidaymakers begin travelling at the beginning of June and there are more tourists in July and August, then that would definitely save the day for many tourism businesses," GoSaimaa's Kaarnijärvi said.

In the Helsinki region especially, hotel occupancy will be lower than usual this summer, because half of customers are typically foreigners and Asian tourists, for example, are not likely to visit at all. In addition, the cancellation of even one major summer event could spell doom for small city hotels.

On the other hand, postponing summer events until August could lengthen the travel season. And domestic customers will become very important for any travel industry firm.

"On average, domestic customers use less money than foreigners, but [firms will be able to] keep their core business up and running," Lappi pointed out.

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