According to Hanken School of Economics online survey; Central European tour operators are interested in adding the Kvarken Destinations region to their supply.
One of the sparks behind the launch of the Kvarken Destinations project received confirmation in a survey sent out to tour operators; the survey showed that European tour operators are interested in a 2-in-1 destination where travellers can experience two countries – Finland and Sweden – during the same trip. And the sea buckthorn berry on the cheesecake is that the Kvarken’s both shores have plenty of clean nature and space to attract post-COVID tourists supposedly seeking both.
Hanken School of Economics sent an online survey via email to foreign tour operators in March 2021. 49 tour operators received the survey and 31 % of them answered it, amongst them 14 European tour operators and one American tour operator. The Kvarken Destinations project staff has met with the abovementioned operators at tourism industry events.
According to the tour operators, the destination’s strengths lie in its 2-in-1 status – two countries combined – nature, outdoor activities, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In contrast, the destination’s weaknesses include its weak recognition and the fact that its uniqueness has not perhaps been sufficiently marketed so that it would stand out. Some European tour operators called for more cooperation partners to create package tours for the destination.
The shared destination’s website www.kvarkendestinations.com was familiar to many tour operators and received praise for its user-friendliness. The survey reveals that the website’s content bank containing photos, videos, and articles was used very little, stemming from the ongoing coronavirus situation’s impact on tour operators and a limited survey sample.
Kvarken Destinations has increased its recognition amongst tour operators during the past two years thanks to a development project. According to the survey, awareness of the destination was low only a few years ago, but the tour operators who answered the survey now felt that their knowledge of the Kvarken as a travel destination had improved. They were best informed of the northern ferry connection between the countries. This topic has been highly featured in tour operator meetings owing to the new Aurora Bothnia ferry, which is why the matter has left an impression. However, it can be stated that the Kvarken continues to be a relatively small and unknown travel destination amongst foreign tour operators.
Central European tour operators were interested in adding the Kvarken Destinations region to their supply. They applauded that the Kvarken provides all the possibilities for post-COVID travel because we have nature, space, and quiet. On the other hand, they recognized that our region is challenging due to its modest recognition on large German and other European tourism markets. Tour operators who completed the survey encouraged us to continue developing and marketing the region for the new “Kvarken Destinations” brand to find its place in the tourism market. Already the fact that the tour operators devoted their time to answer our survey reveals an interest in our region and also a desire to discover new, fascinating destinations for their customers. Tour operators who have cooperated with the destination for a longer period of time did not answer the survey, which may have influenced the results regarding the destination’s recognition.
Tour operators were asked what the marketing of Kvarken Destinations should focus on when travelling resumes post-COVID. We received some familiar comments that the region has all the pieces in place to succeed in the competition; nature, the possibility to keep one’s distance from others, and distinctiveness compared to mass tourism destinations. Marketing should highlight nature experiences, peace and quiet, sustainability, safety and, once again, nature. One tour operator aptly summarized as following:
“You have already what is needed for post corona travel, I mean space and nature.”
The Kvarken’s travel destinations both in Finland and Sweden are individually quite small from a European perspective. The countries’ joint marketing on foreign markets is a practical solution in order to increase the area’s recognition – especially as the tour operators commented that little is known about it. Because tour operators are interested in a 2-in-1 package – the combination of two countries – we are encouraged to continue the joint marketing of Finland and Sweden’s tourism industries in the Kvarken Destinations area.
Text: Annika Pollari, Project Coordinator, Hanken School of Economics