Finland: a glorious country of varied landscapes and stunning natural beauty

serene and beautiful country dubbed as the last wilderness of Europe, Finland’s every region has its own distinct character, from the wilds of Lapland to the inspiring lakes to the archipelagos of the South-West and the lively attractions of the Capital, Helsinki. In an exclusive interview to TnH magazine, H.E. NINA VASKUNLAHTI, Ambassador of Finland to India, talks about tourism potential of her country. She says that Finland is a unique and non-mainstream holiday choice.

Q. How important is the tourism sector for Finland’s economy?

Tourism is an important sector of our economy. Finland’s tourism industry has rapidly grown over the years to become an important export sector and provider of employment in the country. Tourism’s contribution to the GDP of Finland is 2.5%. Development of tourism in Finland is guided by ‘Achieving more together’, the roadmap for growth and renewal in Finnish tourism for 2015 – 2025. The aim is to make Finland the number-one tourist destination in the Northern Europe by 2025. In 2015, the total consumption expenditure of Finnish and foreign tourists in Finland was €13.8 billion, with the foreign travellers accounting for 27% of the country’s total tourism consumption.

Q. Globally, how popular is Finland as tourist destination?

Finland is not among the most visited countries, but it has increased its popularity during the recent years. This year Finland is celebrating 100 years of its Independence with a series of events planned throughout the year. The country has received good publicity from both tourist guides Lonely Planet and National Geographic as they listed Finland as the top interesting countries to visit in 2017. Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe in terms of area (338,440 km2) and the most sparsely populated country (only 18.1 inhabitants per km2) in the European Union. Finland has lots of forests and lakes as well as a long shoreline with a beautiful archipelago, so there are lots of different landscapes which you can enjoy in different seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn. In a nutshell, Finland is a unique, non-mainvBYPrem stream and exceptionally amazing holiday destination.

Q. What attracts foreign tourists to Finland? What are the popular places to visit in Finland?

A hidden gem in Europe, Finland offers a comprehensive choices for tourists that include high quality life, culture events and nature at its best. The country boasts of its rich natural, historical and cultural heritage. It has seven UNESCO World-heritage sites. The country boasts of a number of ancient castles and fortresses. A country rich in natural diversity, Finland has 40 national parks. The country recently opened its new national park Hossa to celebrate Finland’s centennial of Independence. The country’s landscapes are a glorious variation on the theme of forest and water, where the comforts of modern life are never far away. Yet each region has its distinct character, from the wilds of Lapland to the inspiring lakes to the archipelagos of the south-west and the lively attractions of the capital, Helsinki. Also all four seasons offer varied and unique experiences.

Lapland – With the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun, rich wildlife and vast wildernesses, Finnish Lapland situated at the Arctic Circle is all about soothing natural beauty and wild adventures.

Lakeland – The towns and villages on the shores of Lakeland offer a variety of lovely accommodations and activities in breath-taking scenery. Visiting tourists must try renting a summer cottage or house boat.

Coastal Areas and Archipelago – Historical cities, harbor towns, lighthouses and maritime culture in general characterize Finland’s 1100 kilometers of coastline and the rocky archipelago off it.

Helsinki – A modern and compact European capital by the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is a haven for design and architecture buffs. The sea fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Helsinki, is one of the most popular attractions in Finland. A paradise for art lover, Helsinki has a number of art galleries that exhibit modern and contemporary arts. The small towns and green area such as Porvoo and Raseborg around the city are great for day trips.

Q. How different is Finland from other parts of the Europe as a tourist destination?

Finland is seen as a counterpart to the hectic and ever-accelerating rhythm of daily life. The country offers peace and quiet, and space to breathe, even in the heart of the city. Here, visitors can take things easy, stay at a cottage, enjoy sauna, and explore untouched natural environment. Finnish nature offers opportunities for spectacular nature activities such as snowmobile and husky sledge safaris, island hopping by boat, canoeing in the archipelago or even a snowball fight in the city. Finnish culture is unique and at the same time, it evokes global phenomena, such as Finnish design, Father Christmas, heavy metal and delicious natural products. Finland is often dubbed as the last wilderness of Europe.

Q. Why do you think that Finland is a good destination for Indian visitors?

Finland offers unique experiences for Indian travellers, like snow activities, Northern lights and Santa Claus in Lapland, as well as endless summer nights and pristine nature in the Lakeland and Coastal/Archipelago areas. In Helsinki, you can easily experience urban Finnish culture and still not be far away from the nature. Even in the middle of summer, Finland has pleasant temperature of around 20 degrees celcius and fresh air, and the country offers summer festivals, music, art and poetry etc. Finland is also famous for its numerous fairs and festivals that include art and opera festivals. Finland is also a popular conference destination with cities like Helsinki and Espoo having worldclass infrastructure, state-of-art convention centers and pleasant climate along with a variety of recreational options.

Q. What are your key international tourist markets?

Finland received 7.7 million visitors in 2016. In addition to our neighboring countries, Russia, Estonia and Sweden, the other main visitor groups came from Germany, China, United Kingdom and Japan. Finland had 5.8 million overnight stays by foreign visitors in 2016. Top five countries were Russia, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom and China (incl. Hong Kong).

Q. Tell us about the current state of tourism exchange between India and Finland? How is the number of Indian visitors to Finland has grown in recent years?

The number of Indian visitors to Finland is still quite small but the growth has been strong lately. In 2016 there were 71,000 Indian visitors in Finland, which is twice as high compared to 2015. Also the number of registered overnights by Indian travellers has increased recently in different areas in Finland.

Q. How important is the Indian outbound market for Finland’s tourism sector? How do you plan to increase Indian visitors to Finland in future?

There is a great potential for Finland in the Indian outbound tourism. The awareness about our country in India has gradually improved but Finland as a brand is still relatively unknown in India. To tap the Indian outbound tourism market, we are crafting carefully a strategic plan to make Finland more known among Indians. For this we are organizing Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Events (MICE) and Familiarization (FAM) trips to Finland, and collaborating with other stakeholders such as Finnair, Holiday Club, etc., to capitalize on the potential of Bollywood to promote Finland and more.

Q. How is the food scenario for Indian visitors in Finland?

Finnish cuisine includes fresh ingredients, root vegetables, often fish, foraged berries and mushrooms. Diverse vegetarian culinary culture flourishes in Finland especially in bigger cities, and it is getting more popular all the time. Finland also hosts a number of Indian restaurants that can cater to Indian visitors.

Q. How simple is the visa process of Finland for Indian travellers? How about first time travellers?

As one of the Member States of the Schengen Area, Finland issues Schengen visas. Finnish Embassy in New Delhi has outsourced its visa application processing services to VFS Global. VFS Global Visa Application Centers are situated in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. Applicants can get information concerning the visa application from their webpage including the needed documents. We try to keep the processing times as short as possible. People can apply for visa three months prior to the start of the planned journey. There is no difference between first time or regular travellers.

Q. How is the air-connectivity between the two countries?

Finnair has direct flight between New Delhi and Helsinki. The Finnair route is geographically shorter between Asia and Finland making the flight time approximately 6.5 hrs. Finnair will add a weekly frequency on its Delhi route in November 2017, flying six times a week to the Indian capital during the winter season. This shows a growing interest in India. Apart from Delhi, from November 2017 onwards, Finnair starts flights for Goa (twice a week).

“Finland is seen as a counterpart to the hectic and everaccelerating rhythm of daily life. The country offers peace and quiet, and space to breathe, even in the heart of the city. Here, visitors can take things easy, stay at a cottage, enjoy a sauna, and explore an untouched natural environment.”

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