Minister Toivakka's speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Nordic Travel Fair 2015

Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Lenita Toivakka's speech at the Opening Ceremony of the MATKA Nordic Travel Fair 2015, Messukeskus (Expo & Convention Centre), Helsinki 15 January 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to participate in the Opening Ceremony of the Nordic Travel Fair 2015.

The slogan of the Fair attracts visitors to a place “Where the whole world meets.” This is certainly truewith more than 80 countries presenting themselves at the Fair, everyone is sure to find interesting sites. And at the same time, we can bring the whole world to meet the Finnish travel industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Travel is important for Finland’s economy. Consumption for travel in Finland totalled 13.3 billion euros in 2013. Foreign countries accounted for 4.3 billion euros of this sum. In percentage, the amount corresponds to about 8 per cent of Finland’s total export of goods.

Travel also has a major impact on employment. The travel industry gives full-time or part-time work to an estimated 140,000 people. It is gratifying, in particular, that these figures include many young people. In all, 27,000 enterprises are involved in the travel industry.

The travel industry in Finland is two times larger than agriculture, and many times larger than the game industry, for which we are known. Finland's share of international travel is only 0.4% – as a former entrepreneur, I see great growth potential here.

Naturally, the international situation affects travel as well. The decrease in Russian tourists can be seen on the streets, especially in Eastern Finland. Closer inspection of the figures on travel indicate, however, that Finland interests people also in new areas. Ever more tourists both from Europe and for instance from China make their way to Finland. As in any other of our export activities, the travel industry has reason to look at the whole world. The Travel Fair, with its foreign buyers, offers an excellent channel for promoting Finland as a travel destination.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the development of travel, aside from developing the infrastructure and competitive products and services, it is particularly important to develop the county brand. This is done not only by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and our diplomatic missions as part of the Team Finland network, but also by each practical encounter with a Finnish service, enterprise or person. Finland’s image in the world is important for travel.

Finland’s three strong areas are a well-functioning society, nature and education. These three have been noted in many contexts, and all of them as such also affect the image of Finland as a travel destination. In addition to our unique nature, the seasons can be a travel destination strength.

Our goal should be to get people and enterprises to choose Finland on an increasingly competitive (travel) market. “The world’s best functioning country” works as an attractive idea in many contexts, but when we think of Finland as a travel destination, a large share of Finland’s appeal factor is derived from a completely different end of the spectrum: We are exotic, exciting, cool. Thus we are not just boringly functional. We are exciting AND functional. Being exotic and different are assets we can use to attract tourists. And if a Swedish tabloid finds eleven reasons to love Finland, we are sure to come up with even more reasons.

For some time now, one travel trend has been the attraction of special productions in the entertainment industry and the appeal of prominent figures in the cultural sector. Travel packages are created on the basis of detective books, filming sites interest tourists, and buildings and places important to prominent figures in architecture and music draw visitors. For a small nation, Finland has a surprisingly many cultural figures of note even globally – among these we can count, for instance, Santa Claus.

Sibelius was and is one of the greatest, and this year is special, as it is the 150th anniversary of his birth.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Sibelius events throughout Finland and elsewhere this year. These can hopefully be taken into account innovatively in the offerings and marketing of the travel industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the same time as we attract foreign tourists to Finland, Finns travel abroad actively. Finns make approximately 10 million trips abroad per year. Despite the economic downturn, the number of trips abroad has grown steadily in recent years. Preliminary data indicate that this growth trend continued in 2014. Here, too, a strong domestic travel industry is important – a significant share of the value of trips abroad made by Finns remains in or returns to the home country.

Travel trends are also seen in the consular services offered by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The relative proportion of independent travellers is increasing. The average age of travellers is rising, which places demands on the service offering. A clear trend during the year 2014 was the growing popularity of the Mediterranean region.

The vast majority of Finnish travellers are peaceful folk with their feet on the ground. This can be seen particularly clearly in crisis situations. One can encounter surprises when travelling, however, and therefore on behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs we remind you of the three Ts of safe travel: before travelling, read the Travel bulletin, fill in a Travel notification and take out Travel insurance. In Finnish the three Ts are of course three M’s, namely Matkustustiedote Matkustusilmoitus ja Matkavakuutus. And once these have been done, we wish you a good trip.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Nordic Travel Fair has long traditions. The travel fair and maritime exhibition held in 1936 has grown into the industry’s largest event in Northern Europe. Travel has changed, and so has the industry along with it. The travel industry and travellers are in the forefront of utilizing new technologies, information is sought increasingly often online. One thing, however, has remained. It is the passion travel industry entrepreneurs and actors feel about the sector. The state for its part can support the travel business through various actions, but in the end, entrepreneurs’ passion for their activities determines how attractive a country we will be considered in future.