We know that Finland is “the land of a thousand lakes” – or rather, there are over 187,000 lakes out there. This means that there is one lake for every 26 Finns and water, as it happens, makes up 10% of the land area in Finland.
Finns are extremely proud of Lakeland, the part of Finland with the most lakes. During the summer, Finns flock to their cottages by the lakesides – a key feature of true Finnish way of life. But what about international tourists – and investors? How likely are they to hear the call of the wild?
Hanna Lankinen, Head of Health and Travel Industry, Invest in Finland, says that the clear-watered lakes are as much a selling point as endless deep-green forests. "Lakeland offers visitors the unique peace and tranquility of the Nordic nature," she says.
"There's an endless array of outdoor activities across all seasons, from chasing Aurora Borealis in the winter season to hiking and observing wildlife in the national parks during summer." For travel industry players, Lakeland is a "low-risk zone" as Finland is one of the most stable operating environments in the world.
Any quest into the heart of Lakeland should start from Saimaa, the largest lake in Finland. Popular for being the habitat of the iconic Saimaa ringed seal, Saimaa has 15,000 islands and 9,300 kilometres of shoreline.
"Saimaa has more shoreline than France, for example," says Maisa Häkkinen from business development company Miksei Mikkeli. Mikkeli is one of the five cities located on the shores of Saimaa, along with Savonlinna, Varkaus, Lappeenranta and Imatra.
According to Wall Street Journal, Lake Saimaa is the most beautiful lake area in all of Europe and among the TOP5 most beautiful lakes in the world. Häkkinen agrees fully: "Saimaa is unique in the whole word, offering peaceful, nature-oriented relaxation," she says. There's bonfires and VIP cruises in the summer, ice fishing, ice skating or even ice swimming in the winter – and be sure to try the delicious local cuisine!
For international travel players, there are plenty of opportunities here – some of them cross-border, too. "St. Petersburg is really just around the corner, which creates possibilities to crown a metropolitan holiday with nature adventure – or vice versa."
Within the last five years or so, different resort investments have materialised around Saimaa – and the trend is only accelerating. "Many of the newcomers are boutique type concepts targeting wellbeing & health oriented patrons," Häkkinen says.
While Helsinki and Lapland are the best-known Finnish destinations from the perspective of the international visitors, Häkkinen believes Saimaa is an up-and-coming challenger. "We want to get to the same level with Helsinki and Lapland as an international destination," she says.
Another strong Lakeland performer is Lahti, located on the shores of Vesijärvi (which is Finnish for 'Water Lake', as it happens). The dominant local body of water, however, is Lake Päijänne, the second biggest lake system in Finland. "Every fifth Finn gets his or her daily drinking water from the Lake Päijänne," says Raija Forsman from Lahti Region Ltd.
Forsman believes that Lahti Region, as a key part of Lakeland, has high potential in tourism, driven by a change in people's values and attitudes with regards to travel. "People appreciate nature, clean air, clean water and sustainability in a completely different way now," she describes the post-Covid set-up in tourism.
City of Lahti has plans to boost nature & wellbeing and sports related travel – and one project with no small ambition is Ranta-Kartano area, connecting the city centre to the shore of Lake Vesijärvi. At a former parking area, residential blocks, a hotel and water activity centre are being planned.
"Projects such as Ranta-Kartano add to our year-round appeal," Forsman says, pointing out that bringing new capacity to the area is vital for City's tourism growth plans. "We welcome especially international players to come and explore our offering."
Lahti – European Green Capital 2021 – provides an excellent setting for various events. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo/Visit Lahti
According to Forsman, Lahti is also leading host city for big events and a world-famous winter sports capital of Finland; for example, Lahti is the only city in the world that has hosted the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships seven times. "Lahti offers a prime location for organisers of various events."
Among the latest attractions, we find KymiRing, located in Iitti, 50 minutes from Lahti and the first race track in the Nordic countries that meets international FIA/FIM standards. The brand new KymiRing expects to see even 800,000 visitors per year, one-third of whom are international – so more hotel capacity is needed in the Region for this reason alone.
In addition, Lahti is the European Green Capital 2021, the smallest and most northern city ever awarded this title. "This award recognizes the results of decades of work to make the city more environmentally friendly and safer for sustainable development," says Forsman.
No tour of Lakeland would be complete without a stop at the mighty Koli which features Finland's best-known, best-loved national landscapes. Koli National Park is famous for its high fells and the Pielinen lake (4th largest in Finland) – but the region also boasts other diverse nature settings, such as ancient forests, cliffs, marshlands, streams, beaches, islands...
Anni Almqvist from business developer Lieksan Kehitys says that the challenge involving Koli – as well as other natural treasures in the area – concerns the desire to introduce only moderate tourism in the region.
"Sustainable, responsible development is what we want to do here," she says, adding that safeguarding the iconic vistas must always come first. "Still, we recognise that the Koli area would benefit from one or two hotels, as there is presently only one hotel – and the need for more capacity is really immense," she says.
Almqvist says that Koli is a great fit for a sustainably-thinking international operator who is looking for something extraordinary – and requires year-round patrons. "You could make the case that we are the most year-round travel destination in Finland," Almqvist says.
And what can be done during the four seasons of "the Wolverine Country"? Well, such activities as trail cycling, hiking and white-water rafting (using wooden boats!) are a big hit in the summer – and in the winter you can try a snowshoe trip, scenic ice skating or skiing or slalom.
In addition, there's an atmosphere and vibe here you will find nowhere else. You can feel that the bones of this land are ancient – and there's science to prove it: "You can stand upon the world's oldest rock – 300 million years old – here," says Almqvist.
Still, Almqvist believes that Koli has barely scratched the surface of what's possible to achieve in the realm of Travel & Tourism. "At the moment, supply and demand do not meet in an optimal way. New travel industry players have great opportunities here," she says.
"In a post-Covid world, travel trends very much favour destinations such as Koli – and we expect to see great things in the future."
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Head of Travel & Tourism industry
hanna.lankinen (at) businessfinland.fi
Senior Advisor, Travel & Tourism
tuija.tommila (at) businessfinland.fi