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Hockey fans fill hotels as Russians stay away

Big hotel chains report few vacancies in the Helsinki region this festive season, even though the traditional New Year influx of Russian tourists has not really materialised. Hospitality industry insiders report that Chinese tourists are helping to make up some of the shortfall, along with guests in town for big sporting events.

Turistit saapumassa hotellin aulaan Helsingissä.
Tourists enter a hotel lobby in Helsinki. Image: Yle

The capital city region is usually thronged with Russian tourists at this time of year, as travellers cross the eastern border to take advantage of Russia’s longer New Year holiday. This year is different.

As the weak rouble and Russia’s economic troubles influence travel plans, Chinese guests and hockey fans have taken up the slack. Finnair is targeting the far east for new business, bringing Chinese tourists to Helsinki, while the Ice Hockey World Under-20 Championships are bringing plenty of business to the capital’s tourism businesses.

Restel’s commercial director Anni Kallioniemi says that her firm is pretty much fully booked over the New Year. The firm runs Crowne Plaza, Cumulus and Holiday Inn hotels.

"There are some odd rooms (available), and cancellations will come at the last minute, but there are tournament tourists and New Year travellers, especially in the capital city region," said Kallioniemi, who notes there are fewer Russian tourists.

Domestic tourism to the rescue

Sokos and Scandic hotel groups tell a similar story. Although Russian tourism in Finland has dropped off to around half what it was in previous years, a jump in Finnish tourism and travel from China has helped plug some of the gap.

"The Asian market is growing pretty strongly at the moment, and especially China," said Sales Director Jarkko Härmälä of Sokos hotels, who adds that the drop in Russian visitors has been compensated by domestic travel.

"When you look at the economic figures and the general atmosphere, demand has been surprisingly strong," says Scandic Managing Director Aki Käyhkö.

Both Käyhkö and Härmälä suggest that those looking to book a room ask hotels directly about cancellations. The busiest night is New Year’s Eve itself, as the previous and following nights see emptier hotels. Establishments located a little further out from Helsinki City Centre are also more likely to have room.

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