Opening speech by Minister Toivakka at the Nordic Travel Fair

Opening speech by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka at the MATKA Nordic Travel Fair, Helsinki 21 January 2016.

Dear cooperation partners of the MATKA Nordic Travel Fair, dear tour operators, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate at the opening ceremony of the Travel Fair 2016. The Travel Fair has long traditions and has retained its popularity, giving the visitors a wide and varied overview on the world of travel and tourism.

Tourism is a major income source for Finland.  And there is an encouraging sign: inbound travel to Finland has increased. This positive development is expected to continue this year. We are especially delighted with the sharp rise in the number of visitors from China.

Tourists come to Finland to experience its clean nature, well-functioning tourism infrastructure, security and safety, the exotic northern lights and the midnight sun. And, of course, to meet Santa Claus. These are Finland’s main assets in the field of tourism, and they appeal to visitors year after year.

Yet the travel business – like all industries – faces very hard competition. We therefore have to look for growth with more determined action and find a special niche for Finland. The excellent Asian routes offered by Finnair have brought significant numbers of stopover visitors to Helsinki Airport. We now want to make it an attractive option for them to stay in Finland for a few days or at least a few hours. The fact that Finnair has been the first European airline to introduce the Airbus A350 aircraft is another indication of the determination to raise passenger volumes.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

New potential has also been identified in wellness tourism, or Finrelax. Finland has what it takes to provide wellbeing for the body and the mind: the sauna and fresh nature offer both physical and spiritual relaxation. We also strive to make Finland’s wonderful maritime archipelago more widely known internationally.

International conventions and congresses are another important resource to Finland. Every year, Finland has ranked among the world’s top 20 congress destinations, and in 2013 we even managed to beat our dearest competitor Sweden in quantitative terms. During the record year of congress travel in 2014, Finland hosted 708 international congresses.

The Visit Finland organisation promotes inbound travel to Finland very actively. Promotional efforts target especially China and Japan, whose outbound travel is on the increase and who enjoy excellent flight connections to Finland. There is a steady flow of visitors to Finland from Central Europe, and the prime focus of our European marketing efforts is on Germany. The Nordic countries have pooled their marketing resources notably on the United States travel market.

Tourism also plays a significant role by creating jobs for a lot of people, especially young people, many of whom have their first contact with working life in this very field. The good knowledge of foreign languages boasted by Finnish youth can be put to good use in travel and tourism. The Helsinki Helper tourist guides, for example, are at the service of visitors in 14 different languages.

Tourism generates growth and employment across the whole country, and the travel industry in fact represents a decisive share of the revenue of many small localities in Finland. With no major automation foreseeable, tourism will remain a labour-intensive field. All of you present here perform important work for the good of this country by providing foreign visitors with unforgettable experiences in Finland. I thank you sincerely for your efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While Finland continues to attract more and more people from other countries, a growing number of Finns have their eye on far-off lands. Finns are eager travellers, and many of us have had the experience of running into our countrymen even in the remotest corners of the world.

People keep booking trips abroad as frequently as before, if not more often, but, at the same time, they have become more security conscious. This can be partly explained by terrorist attacks: news from various parts of the world report on the heightened threat of terrorism, and the security assessments of many countries are mirrored against the Paris attacks last November. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Finnish diplomatic missions receive more inquiries than before on the security and safety situation in different countries.

For the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, travel safety is the key theme at this Travel Fair. The Ministry seeks to transmit pertinent and up-to-date information on travel safety to travellers through different channels. The main tools are the travel advice notices, which are constantly updated by the Ministry and the missions and inform about the security situation of 160 countries.

Another important public service is the travel notification. By submitting a travel notification, you can make sure to be contacted in an acute crisis situation. Such a notification can be submitted very easily by, for example, sending an SMS that covers you or your whole family.

Social media is today used increasingly for information purposes. The brand-new service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Web consul that is available on Facebook, answers travellers’ questions regarding travel safety and provides advice in problem situations. The Web consul service will be launched at this Travel Fair.

The threat posed by terrorism that I referred to has lately received much attention in the media. However, when planning trips, Finns should remember that the risk for them of falling victims to terrorist attacks is essentially lower than the risks represented by transport, infectious diseases and ordinary criminality.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Travel is still largely safe, and the world usually has positive surprises in store for the traveller. I therefore encourage Finns to continue travelling and enjoying other countries.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has its own stand at this fair, and I warmly welcome you to visit it. Thank you.