It appears "Magnetic North" is also a business term. Hanna Lankinen, Head of Health and Travel Industry, Invest in Finland, says that whether it's Aurora Borealis in the winter or the Midnight Sun in the summer, Northern Finland is nature's very own treasure trove.
"For example, Lapland is a highly popular travel destination, both for Finns and international visitors, thanks to its natural beauty, northern charm and almost endless possibilities for outdoor activities all year-round," Lankinen says.
"When it comes to up-and-coming travel destinations, the entire area of Northern Finland offers attractive tourism related investment opportunities," she adds.
Since Finland is one of the most stable operating environments in the world, the investors don't have to worry about societal upheaval, either.
Starting with Oulu, the Capital of Northern Scandinavia, it is clear to see that the vibrant city by the Bothnian Bay has a lot to offer. Finland's 5th biggest travel destination city, Oulu enjoys year-round hotel activity due to the fact that about half of the customers is leisure and half is work and congress customers. Key Account Director Jyrki Kemppainen from BusinessOulu points out that the foundations of Oulu Region travel operations are solid:
"We have a very stable operating environment in Travel with good hotel capacity rates year-round," he says. Oulu's City Strategy calls for one million over-night stays per year by 2027 (pre-Covid over-night stays about 700,000). To accomplish this goal, however, the Region needs at least 700 additional hotel rooms.
Oulu is in a great position to reach its Travel & Tourism targets, since the city enjoys super connectivity, featuring e.g. Finland's second most active airport. However, Oulu is not looking to pursue growth at any price in Travel – the idea is to be a sustainable travel destination, with focus on nature values and vivid experiences, such as the legendary Aurora Borealis and the frozen sea. Sustainable development can be Oulu's superpower, so to speak.
One example of this natural approach is Nallikari Holiday Village, a year-round holiday resort just a stone's throw away from the centre of Oulu. Boasting the most beautiful sandy beach in the shores of the Bothnian Bay, the area is hailed as the "Riviera of the North" – with also new investments in the pipeline. "There are investments totaling 100 million euros on the way, including a resort and a spa hotel," says Kemppainen.
In downtown Oulu, there's a 22-floor tower hotel in the works, right by the market square. Eventually reaching 80 meters, the building goes by the name Terwa Tower. A Sea Spa is also planned next to the hotel.
Also, Oulu's railway station quarter is getting a "beauty treatment," since its excellent location in the city core provides plenty of opportunities for redevelopment. The main land owners are working with the City of Oulu to create a modern, exciting travel hub. "A congress hotel and an arena are being planned here," adds Kemppainen.
Extra buzz is being created by Oulu's selection as the European Capital of Culture 2026. While the Big Year is not quite within reach just yet, there are plans being made as we speak.
"In addition to the City of Oulu, there are 30 local municipalities participating in the culture year," says Kemppainen, adding that culture and creativity are also major selling points from the perspective of Travel.
And of course, once you head even more north from Oulu, you will get to Lapland, the land of Santa Claus and reindeer. An internationally known brand of its own right, Lapland is certainly on the cutting edge of sustainable tourism development. Delivering truly immersive, magical experiences, Lapland is an easily accessible wilderness which offers one-of-a-kind adventures in the arctic nature.
Sanna Tarssanen, Managing Director from House of Lapland, points out that a tremendous amount of the local travel industry's growth has come from the international market, such as Central Europe and Asia. "Central European countries such as Germany and France, as well as the UK and China, are really our main markets," she says.
In 2019, there were over three million registered over-night stays in Lapland, of which over half came from the international customer base. And while Covid-19 has hurt tourism also in Lapland, it's worthwhile to mention that Lapland has remained one of the safest regions during the pandemic. As the tourism industry starts to recover, the Land of Northern Lights Santa Claus warmly welcomes all travelers back. "Lapland Travel & Tourism is resilient, because the local business environment is so robust and stable. We are already bouncing back from the ill effects of the pandemic," Tarssanen says.
Lapland has several ongoing investments regarding also year-round development which is the "next big thing" up north, Tarssanen believes. "We have our high season from November to April, but also our summer season shows a lot of promise," she says, adding that the "snow-free" May-October season reached an annual growth of 7% prior to Covid.
"According to our studies, the summer season has potential has that clearly rivals that of winter. For example, the midnight sun of the summer months is something that people are very excited about."
Tarssanen sees big growth potential also in high quality, even luxury, accommodation. This could mean spending a night in an ultra-modern iglu, watching the Northern Lights from your bed through a glass roof – or something equally memorable. "Accommodation sector was growing 15% in 2018 and we have currently many business opportunities worth getting familiar with."
Whether it's high-end or something else altogether, it is clear that Lapland tourism is rooted on sustainability – and this brand of responsible, natural, experience-driven travel offers opportunities for new bold entrepreneurs and investors to become a part of the local Travel ecosystem.
"Lapland has that big appeal of exotic nature and the great outdoors – and international travel players will find amazing networks and partners here."
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Head of Travel & Tourism industry
hanna.lankinen (at) businessfinland.fi
Senior Advisor, Travel & Tourism
tuija.tommila (at) businessfinland.fi