What is behind the latest overnight figures?
During last few years (2014-2016) Russian outbound tourism flow has been experiencing quite turbulent times, due to complicated political and economic situation, main negative element being the downfall of ruble, which at its worst has cut Russians income up to 50% in euro equivalency. Since tourism as industry is very vulnerable to such economic changes, it quite fast resulted in downfall in Russian tourist flow to Finland.
However, in second half of 2016 the economic situation in Russia has shown considerable signs of stabilization, which quite quickly turned into positive numbers in outbound tourism statistics to Finland. Autumn 2016 showed for the first time in past 2-3 years considerable growth, and traditional Russian festive season in December 2016 and January 2017 has been successful, showing good increase in overnights and arrivals (18 % overnights and 20% arrivals in December, and 2% overnights and 6% arrivals in January).
In a nutshell, Russians are starting to travel abroad actively again, and are coming back to Finland, which remains one of the most popular foreign destinations for Russian tourists. We are yet far from top numbers of past times, but the tendency is looking promising.
What are the key drivers for winter travel to Finland from Russia?
Finland is one of the closest European neighbors to Russia, especially for Saint Petersburg and its surrounding North-West region. Finland, due to its good infrastructure, is also very easy and fast to reach, by car, by express train, by air and by bus. Finnish visa is quick and easy to obtain compared to some other European countries.
Finland is considered safe and Finns are offering friendly service. Another crucial attractive factor is that the price level in Finland is the most affordable compared to all other Scandinavian destinations. These are most essential general key drivers for travel.
As for winter travel in particular, comfortable Finnish cottages and pure nature with lots of snow in Eastern Finland, Lakeland and Lapland are constantly attractive, combined with numerous SPA-hotels and city breaks for shopping. Helsinki is a very popular city break destination in winter season. Another winter key driver is a variety of quality ski resorts in Finland, most popular being Vuokatti, Ruka and Levi. Santa Claus and Rovaniemi are popular among families. Briefly, during their winter holidays in Finland, Russians are usually looking for a cottage vacations combined with activities such as skiing, and also for city breaks and shopping.
What are the new travel trends in Russia?
Russians are spending more abroad again: from October 2016 numbers started to increase after 3 years of decline, and in January 2017 spending grew by 32%. Russian outbound tourism is expected to grow in 2017 for the first time in 3 years as well. Considering that 75% of overall outbound tourism from Russia is aiming to beach destinations, the prognosis is that 2017 will be the year of Turkey (due to its affordability).
Russian state authorities are investing heavily in development of domestic tourism, which means that part of outbound tour operators is and will continue to switch to domestic offering. Total amount of licensed outbound tour operators in Russia has significantly decreased during the last 2 years, due to new tourism laws and economic situation (from over 2000 to approximately 500-600 at present).
Share of individual independent travelers is growing in Russia constantly and steadily; people are booking and planning their trips increasingly without tour operators. From Finland’s point of view, this is essential in particular for Saint Petersburg and Russian North-West region.
How could Finland differentiate from the other travel destinations for Russian travelers?
Finland has a quite impressive number of strength points, which I have mentioned above earlier, and these factors are already making a good difference in Finland’s favor from Russian tourists point of view. However, Finnish tourism industry can definitely empower and develop these factors further by following steps:
- Adjust and customize the products to the needs of Russian customers as much as possible. Russians are still willing, and again increasingly able, to pay for their trips and services. However, Russians (especially from Saint Petersburg and Moscow) are nowadays quite price-aware and demanding. Russian-speaking staff, special offers and tailored content, prolonged opening times – all these are proven to pay off the effort.
- Price does matter at the moment for Russians. In order to get Russians in growing numbers, tours and trips needs to be made more affordable. Luxury segment tourists are still there indeed, but middle class income is now lower than before, so in order to keep them loyal and returning – make them an offer they can’t refuse.
- Finland is known in Russia of its pure nature and slow living, silence, peace of mind and eco food. These are the keys for success, if these products can be sold in a right package along with a right story. Bet on it, and you will win in longer term.
Marketing coordinator, Russia and CIS