Heli Mende, Head of Visit Finland North America/Commercial Counsellor
One of the biggest obstacles on the road to recovery for Heli Mende, Head of Visit Finland North America, will be overcoming the uncertainty amongst travellers around if and when it is safe to travel internationally.
“Communication is always important, but in times like these, sharing information is crucial. So is being transparent, honest and working together,” Mende tells Travel Courier. “As tourist boards, we need to know what the operators and agencies are doing and they need to know what is happening in the destinations; if there are services that are no longer available, what are the health safety protocols and cancellation policies.”
With a lot of uncertainty around what the future of travel looks like, she says there are lots of questions left to answer.
“A big question is how the traveller will behave in the future, for example, will they still travel in bigger groups and if they do, what procedures are required? Or if the focus will be on FIT travel, what specifically, for example, do Finnish suppliers need to know?” Mende says. “At this point it looks like that the affluent FIT travellers will be the first ones to travel to Europe. I believe that we all need to be very agile and hear the sentiments of the end customers and try to adapt to those to be able to do best we can to provide a safe, memorable and enjoyable travel experiences.”
As a new normal begins to emerge, she foresees a shift towards more sustainable and responsible travel behaviour.
“Finland, for example, did not suffer from over tourism before the crisis in a similar manner as some other destinations but now in this situation the socio economical aspects of sustainable travel are more important than ever as we must ensure that local businesses will survive,” she says. “Guiding travellers to buy local products can help.”
Looking forward, she says airlines will play a crucial role in connectivity when restrictions are lifted so close communication will be key.
“Privacy will be the new black for the time being and hygiene protocols are expected from all suppliers,” she says. “Communicating about those is imperative to ensure that the end customer has as much information as possible to make an educated decision of their travel experience.”
To that end, Visit Finland has launched a recovery team that is working closely with its stakeholders in Finland, in-market representatives and the travel trade in each focus market.
“With this situation, we are all in the same boat and must do whatever we can do to support each other working in the travel trade,” she says. “It has been great to see that many travel agents have been able to use this time to learn about new destinations and to prepare themselves for the time after the crisis. I personally would be very happy to hear what information is required and how we can be more helpful.”
With a surge in interest for educational materials and webinars by North American travel professionals, she says they have already have started joint Nordic level webinars and plan to launch a webinar series for Finland’s four major regions: Helsinki region, Coast and Archipelago, Lakeland and Lapland.
Like most destinations, Visit Finland has been focusing on providing “Dream now, travel later” information for both travel professionals and consumers. Visit Finland launched “Rent A Finn Goes Virtual” campaign, www.rentafinn.com, which was based on last year’s successful Rent A Finn campaign.
“Our goal has been to share with the international audiences why we ourselves think that Finland has been ranked as the happiest country in the world three years running,” she says. “This year we now have invited audiences around the world to visit Finland through live sessions with Finnish virtual guides. Each session has a different theme, showcasing for example Finnish sauna traditions or how to enjoy Finnish nature or learning about cooking with wild food.”
While there is no date yet for when Canadians can visit, travel agents can access more information through specific websites for travellers and travel trade to get the latest updates about travelling to Finland during and after COVID-19.
“These are trying times for travel professionals and a lot of support is needed,” she says. “But we just need to try and remember that people are anxious to travel and travel trade professionals are needed to curate the best possible post corona virus travel experiences.”
Finland lights: Photo courtesy: Thomas Kast and Visit Finland