Some 20 per cent larger in area than Belgium and the Netherlands combined, but boasting only about two-thirds of one per cent of their total population, Finnish Lapland holds the distinction of being the European Union’s largest wilderness.
Current estimates reckon that only 184,000 people live in Finnish Lapland, which was officially one of Finland’s six provinces until January 1, 2010. (On this date Finland banished its centrally controlled provincial governments to establish new regions, which correspond to the former provinces but which are governed internally by regional administrative agencies run by the respective regions’ municipalities.)
In such a vast area where so few people live and where there are so few roads – most of the region lies above the Arctic Circle more than 400 miles (645 kilometres) north of the country’s capital Helsinki – air services form a vital link to the outside world.
The huge area is served by six airports: Enontekiö, Ivalo, Kemi-Tornio, Kittilä, Kuusamo and Rovaniemi. All are operated by Finavia, Finland’s state-owned airport operator and air traffic services provider, which operates 25 (22 commercial and three general aviation or military) of Finland’s 27 major airfields.
Scheduled air service to Finnish Lapland
Each of the six Lapland airports is served by Finnair and/or its regional-airline partner Finncomm Airlines – Fincomm serves Enontekiö and Kemi-Tornio for Finnair and also operates services from Tampere and Turku to Kittilä and Kuusamo – as well as by Blue1, the SAS Group subsidiary.
Blue1 serves Ivalo, Kittilä, Kuusamo and Rovaniemi, which is the largest town in Finnish Lapland but is not its most important tourism resort. Since Finnair is a member of the oneworld alliance and Blue1 a member of the Star Alliance, passengers using the Lapland airports have access to the entire networks and resources of two of the world’s three major global airline alliances.
Lapland forms part of the cultural home of the indigenous Sami people – their vast northern homeland is traditionally known as Sápmi – and includes areas of northern Sweden, Norway and Russia.
However, within the overall expanse of Lapland, the six airports of Finnish Lapland provide “the best airport services in the Arctic Circle” and “a tourism-friendly airport network”, says Thomas Kingelin, sales manager for Finavia’s Lapland airport network. Accordingly, as a group the six airports provide the main international gateways by which most of Lapland is connected to the world at large.
Even considering the importance of air service as a means of communication between the region’s tiny population and the rest of Finland, the success demonstrated by Finnish Lapland’s six airports in recent years is remarkable in terms of their primary role in making Lapland’s many tourism charms accessible to the entire world.
Although 2009 saw international traffic at the six airports decline marginally as a result of recession in the key UK and European economies, the airports saw their inbound international passengers climb from 75,000 a year in 1998 to more than 450,000 in 2007 and 2008. During the same period, the six airports’ domestic traffic remained flat, at around 700,000 passengers a year.
Finavia operates all six airports under one brand – Lapland Airports – and offers airlines and other customers common pricing at all its airports, to help promote brand awareness. While Finavia relies on its ‘Via Helsinki’ campaign to promote Helsinki Airport as a major hub for Europe-Asia services as a key piece of its overall marketing strategy to build passenger traffic, it also relies on the Lapland Airports to foster international service growth.
The Lapland Airports brand “creates a unified airport network in Lapland and is Finavia’s contribution to Lapland’s international marketing,” says Kingelin. “It increases brand awareness of Lapland in international markets and among key tourism actors.”
What Finavia strives to do, he adds, is to make the six Lapland airports an integral part of each arriving passenger’s Lapland experience. “The airport isn’t the reason for travel, but it can be part of the travel experience and it can enhance the traveler’s experience when [he or she] arrives at the destination.”
The fastest way to Lapland
The airports are “the fastest way to Lapland”, says Kingelin. “Year-round accessibility is guaranteed” – even though he says temperatures of minus-30 degrees centigrade (minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit, 54 degrees below freezing) are typical in winter – and Finavia has invested heavily in facilities and skilled personnel to make sure it keeps the six Lapland airports open even in times of deep snow.