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ITTFA Comment on… Focus on… Finland

Finland’s role as a bridge between east and west has been established through the centuries, but has gained renewed importance over the last decade with the liberalisation of the former Eastern bloc. New EU member Estonia is only 80 km from Helsinki by sea, and warmer relations with Russia mean more travel to and from St Petersburg and Moscow by rail, sea, road and air.

ITTFA’s member exhibition in Finland is Matka, to be held at the Helsinki Fair Centre from January 18-21. Together with Caravan 2007, an event aimed at the motor caravan and camping market, Matka is the largest travel event in the Nordic Countries.

In 2006, Matka welcomed 1,100 exhibitors from 59 countries. Almost 62,000 people visited the event, of which 17,000 were travel industry professionals including 2,400 from abroad.

There is a strong focus on both inbound and outbound markets, and the strong contingent of Russian trade visitors proves that Finland is still very much the bridge between east and west. The largest numbers of trade visitors from abroad in 2006 were from Russia (722), Estonia (434) and Sweden (175).

The event coincides with a major drive by Helsinki to position itself as a city break destination. Helsinki City Tourist & Convention Bureau is also presenting the city as a meeting point for east and west, and Matka 2007 is assisting in building the new Helsinki brand.

Helsinki has been boosted by a growing number of low-cost flights, making it accessible from throughout Europe. Finnair continues to build its international network with long-haul as well as short-haul routes, including trans-Polar services to the east.

The Finnish lake district is a popular holiday area especially for the domestic and Nordic markets, while Lapland – in the far north – is growing as an adventure destination. An unusual fact about Finland is that winter is stronger than summer for visitors from some countries, who are keen to try Finland’s improving downhill ski resorts as well as winter activities including snowmobile, dog sledge and reindeer safaris, and encounters with the Sami people.

Lapland also dominates the market for Santa Claus breaks, mainly from the UK. In December hundreds of charter flights arrive at Rovaniemi, Kittila and other northern centres bringing families on day trips or short breaks to meet Santa Claus and discover the delights of winter.

December is the fourth busiest month for international arrivals to Finland, after the June-August peak. For UK visitors December is the busiest month, with January and February in third and fourth places.

“Matka offers a great opportunity for domestic exhibitors to convince foreign travel professionals that Finland is an attractive and interesting destination,” says Inna-Pirjetta Lahti, manager of Matka.

But Finns are big overseas travellers too, especially to sunshine destinations in winter and long-haul. Finns have high average disposable income, making Matka attractive to diverse exhibitors.

Mozambique, Gambia and Mali are first-timers exhibitors in 2007, while Zambia, Ethiopia and Namibia return after making their debut in 2006. The Caribbean and South America are more visible than ever, with Brazil being one of the most popular destinations. Georgia and Albania are represented in 2007 for the second time.