Key to the success of the Lapland airports in increasing international tourism to the area is the growing reputation of Finnish Lapland as a winter-sports destination and – in the pre-Christmas period – as the home of Santa Claus. (In Europe, the official post office of Santa Claus is near Levi, which is Lapland’s busiest winter-sports resort and is also Santa’s official winter resort.)
Transfers from the Lapland airports to the resorts is “fast and convenient”, says Kingelin. “The resorts are always close by, 15 to 30 minutes by bus transfer.”
Kingelin recalls that when Finavia began marketing the Lapland Airports in the 1990s, “We originally thought we couldn’t market winter, because [in Lapland] it is dark and cold. Summer sun was the first program sold – but now it is the opposite. Summer is very quiet.”
International traffic growth
However, inbound winter air travel to Lapland’s airports has boomed in the past decade (although international traffic fell somewhat at all six airports in 2009, as did traffic at many other airports worldwide). There are only about 850 year-round residents in Levi and there would be “no traffic on that basis”. But Levi’s success as a winter-sports resort – it now hosts events in the men’s and women’s Ski World Cup – has made Kittilä Airport (just a 15-minute bus drive from Levi and a 30-minute drive from Ylläs, another large winter-sports resort) the busiest airport in the Lapland Airports group.
In 2008 Kittilä saw 483 international charter flights (in addition to its Finnair, Fincomm Airlines and Blue1 schedules) and handled more than 260,000 passengers, says Jussi Turgala, director of Levi Travel, Levi’s official tourism agency. Traffic at Kittilä grew more than 10 per cent, making Kittilä Finland’s fastest-growing airport.
While 2009 saw “a small decline in international numbers” at Kittilä, according to Turgala, the airport has much reason for optimism in 2010. Kittilä’s summer-season international traffic in 2009 grew 3 per cent, whereas it fell at all the other Lapland airports. Additionally, new direct international charter services have begun operating to Kittilä from Paris, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Russia for the 2009-2010 winter season, helping offset an estimated 25 per cent drop in 2009 in the big UK market to Lapland.
Despite this sizable decline, the UK winter-charter market remains crucial as a source of international traffic to Kittilä and the other Lapland airports serving winter resorts – mainly Ivalo, Kuusamo and Rovaniemi. In 2008 UK tourists represented 50 per cent of Lapland Airports’ international traffic, with some 200,000 UK visitors flying to the airports. The next-biggest group of international visitors was French tourists, with 35,000 visiting; and German tourists represented the third-largest group, with 30,000 visiting.
For 2010, Finavia has dropped by 10 per cent the fees it charges airlines to use its airports. “There is lots of potential to grow air” travel to Finnish Lapland, says Kingelin.
Next on Lapland’s tourism agenda is to build up promotion internationally of summer visits to its vast open spaces – Lapland officially boasts the cleanest air in Europe – and its lakes, forests and mountain fells, already familiar and dear to Finnish holidaymakers. Lapland is ideal for summer outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, canoeing and other adventure sports, and accommodation and tour prices are a fraction of those charged in the peak winter season, says Turgala.
“Lapland won’t be a mass market like Tenerife or Bangkok – it will be a niche market,” says Kingelin. “But there is still a lot of potential for growth.” Lapland certainly has the room for more tourists to wander.