Matka Nordic Travel Fair, considered by many to the preeminent travel trade show in northern Europe, made its long-awaited return to Helsinki earlier this month following a three-year hiatus following disruption caused by Covid-19.
The show returned to Helsingin Messukeskus for its thirty-four staging, bringing over 12,000 industry professionals together - tour operators, travel agencies and travel industry service providers - to develop networks, share knowledge and gain insight from travel professionals.
The event, held in-person for the first time since early 2020, had over 50,000 visitors and hosted more than 900 companies from 70 countries, including representatives from new destinations Sao Tome & Principe and Algeria.
There was varied program of events, panel discussions and more for visitors to explore.
Noora Haatainen, business manager of the event, says: “Matka Nordic Travel Fair is a trip in itself.
“It is a great way to get to know destinations and cultures and get tips face-to-face.”
This year, themes of sustainability and recovery for the sector post-pandemic were key.
The event partnered with Visit Greece, which was the number one overseas destination for Finnish tourists last year.
Food was also central to the event, with a Tasty Travel Area showcasing culinary delights including the Helsinki Food Court, offering a selection of delicious outlets from the vibrant restaurant scene.
The opening ceremony included an address by Finavia chief executive, Kimmo Mäki, who was optimistic about the future for the travel industry after a tumultuous time globally.
“Despite the challenging years, I would like to say the situation is quite good now.
“I also see a lot of opportunities in the future.
“In order for us to succeed in using these opportunities, we need strong co-operation.
“We also need to be broad-minded and open for new ideas.
“As the industry grows and develops, there will surely be enough for all of us to share.
“The Nordic travel fair provides an excellent platform.”
One of the megatrends in the industry is, of course, sustainability, and there was much discussion on this theme throughout the event.
Finland - and in particular host city Helsinki - have been working hard to set an example of how destinations can work to become more sustainable.
As Nina Vesterinen, tourism director of Business Helsinki, puts it: “Urban and nature combined is something we want to enhance in our tourism.
“We aim to be the smartest and most sustainable destination in the world.”
Helsinki is aiming for “110 per cent carbon neutrality”: not just by greenwashing but by setting a model for the rest of the world.
With strategic measures for sustainable tourism, including economic aid for businesses to help transition them to greener practices, comprehensive carbon footprint data analysis, and the Think Sustainably program which accredits the greenest attractions, accommodation, shops and restaurants for visitors, there is plenty in the pipeline.
The aim is to make the entire city of Helsinki carbon neutral by 2030.
Indeed, Helsinki Airport, has been carbon neutral since 2009, and the next goal is to reach NetZero carbon emissions by 2025 through a comprehensive program of innovation.
Sustainability of course is not just about the environment but about social issues and inclusion.
Helsinki is a human-scale city with natural space and excellent public resources, not least the incredible Oodi library, built in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of Finland.
As well as the library itself - a dreamlike space filled with cloud-like structures – there are a range of facilities such as a creche, 3D printing machines, music and media studios, fabrication equipment and much more all available to use for free.
Known as the ‘living room of the city’ the facility is a fantastic tourist destination in itself, particularly for families.
It is an example to look not just for the bottom line when thinking about investments in leisure and tourism infrastructure but to create “third spaces” – public amenities such as parks or squares where it is not necessary to spend money, where people can convene, creating a vibrant atmosphere for a destination; that elusive atmosphere or “vibe” that both attracts visitors and offers benefits for locals too.
Nordic tourism recovery overseas is also looking optimistic.
Though figures are not up to the record-breaking 2019 levels, there is already growth since the pandemic, aside from previous key markets such as China and Japan where restrictions on travel and caution have delayed recovery.
While new trends such as remote working are offering interesting new markets to operators, world events such as the Russian invasion of the Ukraine are adding complications to other sectors, not least rising costs.
Added to that many flight paths from Finland to Asia have been diverted away from Russian airspace.
As Heli Mäki-Fränti, managing director of SMAL, Finnish Travel Industry Association, says: “The recovery of tourism started quickly last year.
“The industry is now suffering from concerns about rising prices and consumers’ confidence in their own finances.
“However, the atmosphere in the industry is confident.”
After the events of the last few years, the appetite for travel is still there despite the difficulties.
The industry must continue to respond to these challenges with flexibility and innovation to create safe and sustainable travel for years to come.
As Mäki puts it: “We are living in a global world, where travelling expands our understanding of people and different cultures. Fortunately, the covid crisis is now mainly behind us.
“And now it’s nice to get to say that the travelling industry has coped well with the crisis.
“The industry has been able to adapt really quickly to the new situations. Despite the challenging times, also new services were developed and marketed to new target groups.
“The skill to adapt provides a good starting point for the future as well. When we are able to renew ourselves, we will also be more competitive.”