My Oulu: Hungry for Oulu – Travel forum boosts tourism sector into collaboration
Oulu's tourism industry gathered for the Hungry for Oulu - travel forum on Tuesday 11 October. Oulu has found its attraction factors, that lure tourists to the region, but how to resource long-term development and marketing work is still a challenge. Pohjola ring route, educational tourism and Oulu 2026 culture capital year are all opportunities to help international tourism grow. To succeed, Oulu need stories, cooperation, shared visions, perseverance and once again: cooperation.
Mayor Päivi Laajala, who opened the Hungry for Oulu - travel forum, highlighted the city's ambition to improve international flight connections to Oulu.
"I will propose more resources for marketing and developing the tourism sector in Oulu in my budget for next year. We are working to get new direct international flight routes to Oulu, which BusinessOulu and Oulun Matkailu Ltd are working on," Laajala said.
Oulu 2026 brings momentum
The development of tourism is strongly linked to the year 2026, when European Culture Capital year takes place. Pia Rantala-Korhonen, Managing Director of the Oulu Cultural Foundation, spoke about the regional economic impact of the Capital of Culture year. Gross domestic product grew by 4.5 per cent more in the cities that won the title than in other cities that aspired to it, according to a study that has monitored the impact of culture capital year over 30 years. From businesses, construction, accommodation and catering, arts and entertainment and sports benefited the most from the Culture Capital year.
Therefore it is not a surprise, that Oulu's goal is to increase the city's tourism by 20 per cent by 2026. Growth is sought in year-round tourism through international tourism.
Long-term work pays off
Visit Rovaniemi's CEO Sanna Kärkkäinen revealed the success factors of Lapland's tourism to the travel forum participants. There is no shortcut to happiness, but the uninterrupted, long-term work in the marketing of Lapland has paid off. Good customer feedback talks on behalf itself: product is good.
"The role of tourism companies in Lapland has been priceless, we could not succeed without their input. Marketing a tourist destination is not a project, but continuous, uninterrupted work", Kärkkäinen says.
Kärkkäinen also stressed the importance of direct flight connections to reach the destination behind the success. In addition to charter flights, network airlines became interested in Lapland in 2018, and since then, direct flights to Lapland have been operated by Turkish Airlines, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa. In terms of air traffic and accessibility, Kärkkäinen sees a place for cooperation between Oulu and Lapland, as the Rovaniemi and Oulu airports can feed each other.
The customer teaches in product development
Entrepreneur and Sales Manager Johanna Salmela from Saaga Travel spoke about the development of tourism products through her own experiences. She is familiar with the Pohjola ring route and the educational and technical visits, because prior her career as an entrepreneur, Salmela led Attractive Oulu Region projects, in which the spearheads of Oulu as a tourism destination were cultivated.
"We are a destination management company (DMC), which means that we make ready-made travel packages for international tour operators. My own experience in the product development is that there is no shortcut to happiness. It requires a long-time span to develop travel products that will sell. The customer teaches us what kind of products we should offer," Salmela begins.
Salmela's examples showcase how the development of a tourism package easily requires three to four years of time and how, through the feedback received from the customer, the product can eventually become one that also leads to sales.
"International tour operators have gotten to know our area and our companies through fam trips. Fam trips develop personal relationships with our clients: we get to understand better their needs and our clients get to see, what the region has to offer. With their help in development process, travel packages become what customers want to buy. In other words, the customer really teaches what we should offer, but product development can easily take three to four years," Salmela continues.
Salmela also has a few concerns from the industry's point of view that Oulu should address.
"Educational visits was developed in the project that has ended. How do we ensure, that the work and the results will not be wasted? How is long-term work secured with the educational and technical visits – Oulu has a lot to offer in this sector of tourism business? Another concern of mine is Oulu 2026: are we already too late in product development and marketing? Product development should be underway now, because even in the light of my own examples, the journey from the first contact to the store can take years," Salmela emphasises.
Oulu aims for year-round tourism
Yrjötapio Kivisaari, CEO of Oulun Matkailu Ltd, had compiled goals and tools for developing international tourism in his key note. The aim is to have direct scheduled flights and charter flights to Oulu from Europe during the winter seasons. The aim is also to increase fam tour visits to the area by tour operators, media and influencers.
"We don’t have enough big budget for consumer marketing. We need to let tour operators fall in love in the area and let them bring the clients to us," Kivisaari says.
Tour operators want ready-made tour packages and clear products that are easy to buy. Kivisaari threw the challenge of compiling regional, target group-specific packages. According to him, the extensive area offers a lot of opportunities, as the Oulu region is like the whole of Finland in miniature size.
What do the Northern Lights taste like?
Oulu travel forum provided some food for thoughts for sure, but also practical guidance: we need stories. Björn Ylipää, originally from Pajala, spoke with enthusiasm and expertise about the food and the stories and how to combine the two.
Gravlax can offer a tastier experience than the usual version, when - apart from seasoning it with northern berries - tells a juicy story about how grandpa Erkki cunningly poached it.
"I only discovered my own food culture and identity when I left Pajala. When I'm going there, I call in advance so that mum starts peeling potatoes for meat soup and making climps. After I've eaten, I go out, lie in the snow watching the Northern Lights and think about what they taste like," Ylipää said.
According to him, fine dining is in trouble in Sweden. Now people want to learn about their own country and culture, experience something authentic, cook together and spend a local holiday.
Ylipää presented examples of telling stories through food. As instructed by his grandfather in general, he shared the way to combine stories into tourism: don't lie, but you can always remember a little bit wrong.
More about Pohjola route can be found from here.
Mun Oulun tavoite on vahvistaa oululaisuutta ja sen näkyvyyttä lisäten Oulun kaupungin pito- ja vetovoimaa kirjoittamalla paikallisista ja ajankohtaista aiheista, kuten kaupungin päätöksistä, tapahtumista, kolmannesta sektorista, yksittäisistä kaupunkilaisista sekä mielenkiintoisista ilmiöistä. Mun Oulu on osa Oulun kaupungin viestintäorganisaatiota.