“In Winter Wonderland” – Interview with Olli Rehn, Minister of Economic Affairs, Finland

In the Minister Talk with TUI’s Online Media, the Minister of Economic Affairs talks about his home country’s untouched nature, Nordic design, saunas, Finland’s centenary celebrations & events as well as “Muikku” and Santa Claus.

Dear Minister, how do you welcome tourists in Finland?

Olli Rehn: I would like to welcome you all to Finland – “Winter Wonderland”. It might be cold outside during the winter months but the warmness of Finnish hospitality makes you feel welcome.

Besides winter, one should not forget that we have four seasons with four reasons – so Finland is worth visiting all year round.  

What is the special charm of Finland?

Olli Rehn: It is Finland´s contrasts.

Firstly Finland is a land of countless lakes, forests, fells and archipelagos – it is one of the most extensive and unspoiled natural environments in Europe. There is clean air to breath and nature with many activities to experience. Finland tops the Environmental Performance Index 2016 EPI that ranks the greenest countries in the world.

Secondly Finland’s authentic and unique culture ranges from modern design to heavy metal music. For example Finnish design isn’t just something you see – it’s something you experience. It begins the moment you step off the plane at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, follows you everywhere and stays with you long after you’ve gone.

Helsinki, our capital, is a compact, vibrant and trendy city with nice architecture, urban events, culture and shopping, not to forget our creative and vibrant food and restaurant scene for example Restaurant day when anyone can open a restaurant anywhere.

And finally Finland is a modern and innovative country that functions well.

What is your personal hint to the foreign visitors in Finland? What should nobody miss when visiting your country?

Olli Rehn: I believe everyone should experience a relaxing stay at the lakeside cottage with amazing view. A cottage life is an essential part of Finnish summer and most summer activities revolve around water, such as fishing, swimming and going to the sauna. We climb on the sauna benches to relax, enjoy a bit of peace and quietness, collect our thoughts, or exchange the latest news.

How you say “Enjoy your meal!” in Finnish and what local dishes would you personally offer to a friend and visitor?

Olli Rehn: Hyvää ruokahalua! In Finland local food is part of a high-quality tourism product. It makes us an even more attractive destination for tourists. With regard to purity Finnish food is among the tops in Europe.

I would offer a Vendace, or “muikku” in Finnish. It is not only a very tasty little fish but also a central part of any visit to Saimaa area in Finnish Lakeland.  Vendace is usually pan-fried or smoked. It can be eaten complete with head, bones, fins and tail since they are so soft and almost melt in the mouth. It makes for a delicious meal, best served as a snack or appetizer. Vendace roe is also very popular as a delicacy.

In addition forests are places where Finnish superfood is growing and waiting to be picked up. You will find traditional ingredients such as blueberries and wild mushrooms there. Using these ingredients I could offer creamy chanterelle soup and blueberry pie as a dessert.

In 2017 is Centenary of Finland’s Independence with various celebrations, festivals and events. What cultural highlights will the foreign visitor be able to experience in Finland during this festive year?

Olli Rehn: The theme of the centenary year is “Together”. Accordingly, the Finland 100 programme is a joint effort, built together by the Finnish people and the friends of Finland. At the moment there are already almost 3 000 official smaller and bigger Finland 100 events and the amount is increasing all the time.

Let me point out few of them.

Snow Tango World Championship, 4.2.2017

A Tango competition held at the snowy Tampere Central Square in the middle of winter.

Opening of Moomin Museum, 17.6.2017, Tampere

The world’s only Moomin Museum will open in Tampere Hall, exhibiting original art by Tove Jansson. Tampere Hall also houses an international Moomin reading library and souvenir shop. 

Finnish Sauna Festival

World’s biggest sauna festival in Helsinki 8.-11.6.2017, in Turku 15.-18.6.2017  and in Jyväskylä 10.-13.8.2017.  There will be available 40 different kinds of saunas, a giant sauna for 250 people, sauna yoga, sauna pilates and a lot of good food, complemented with music by Finnish top artists. 

The world’s largest village festival

A hundred days before Finland’s 100th birthday, from 25 to 27 August 2017, all of Finland will get and eat together at the world’s largest village festival. Hundreds of actors in the food sector throughout Finland are organizing special village festivals to be held in national parks, in the open air places, in garrisons, in schools and in restaurants. The “Let’s Eat Together” event aims to promote a culture of eating together and sharing – an opportunity to find new, enduring ways to enjoy our unique food culture and have meals together.

How important is tourism in Finland?

Olli Rehn: In recent years, tourism in Finland has grown more strongly and become more international at a faster pace than other sectors. It has become a nationally significant export sector and provider of employment. For several years, the annual tourism consumption has been more than 14 billion Euros, and it has possibilities of growing to even 20 billion Euros by 2025.

The number of international travelers has doubled since the year 2000, and in 2014 international travelers left revenue of 4.1 billion Euros in Finland.  The value added generated by tourism amounted to 4.4 billion Euros, i.e. 2.5 % of Finland’s GDP. It is bigger than for example food and beverage industries, and forest industry.

Tourism employs 140,000 people, about 5.6 % of all employed people. In addition tourism is a regionally significant industry and it has also very significant multiplier effects on other sectors, such as construction, transport, and commerce.

The largest markets are the neighboring countries of Russia and Sweden, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom. Overnight stays by Chinese visitors increased most in 2015, 41.3 per cent compared to 2014.

Finland is an important destination for Cruise ships and at the same time on of the major production sites of Cruise ships. How important is the Cruise Business for Finland?

Olli Rehn: The Finnish maritime companies are well placed for further export growth over the next ten years thanks to the historically high level of demand for cruise ships and passenger ferries. In 2010-2014, the cluster's turnover increased by 23% to EUR 7.9 billion and about 90% of its products and services already go for export.

The strengths of the Finnish maritime cluster are in the design of the largest cruise ships and passenger ferries, the ability of the leading companies to offer turnkey deliveries, and in Finland's maritime network of more than 1000 subcontractors.

Furthermore about 60 % of the largest luxury cruise ships in the world are built or designed in Finland. In 2015 close to 450 000 cruiser passengers visited Finland. Its direct expenditure accounted for 627 million Euros and created jobs for close to 10 000 people. In summer 2016 240 cruise ships visited Helsinki. Most of the visitors came from Germany.

The Finnish Region of Lapland is the legendary homeland of Santa Claus and one of the most popular winter destinations in Europe. What would you recommend to a foreign visitor in Lapland?

Olli Rehn: I would recommend a dogsled or a reindeer safari followed by a dinner by camp fire and an overnight stay in a snow castle or an ice igloo. Naturally for children a visit in Santa Claus Village is a must!