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View of Lake Saimaa (photo: Visit Lappeenranta)

Saimaa and St Petersburg attract tourists together

EU-funded cross-border cooperation and marketing is about to take off with the aim of attracting Chinese and other visitors.

Cross-border cooperation between incoming tourism players in Finland and Russia will begin this spring in an effort to attract more Chinese and other visitors to explore both sides of the border and experience northern Europe’s pristine forests and lakes.

Lake Saimaa – Purest Finland is a brand consortium that includes the towns of Imatra, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli and Savonlinna. It is working with the Leningrad Region, which includes destinations like Vyborg with its medieval castle and Art Nouveau buildings, and the city of St Petersburg.

The three-year joint tourism promotion project, which secured €900,000 in EU funding last year, will reach out to attract international tourists from lucrative markets such as China, South Korea and Central Europe.

The Finns’ and Russians’ aim is to raise awareness and develop contacts with tour operators “to increase high-value incoming tourism outside the main tourism season”.

There will be many different kinds of roundtrips with various lengths between Lake Saimaa and St Petersburg, using trains, cars or cruises. Helsinki is another place to start a tour besides St Petersburg.

“We want to develop travel packages in the Saimaa-St Petersburg travel corridor to take groups from Helsinki eastwards or from St Petersburg westwards using trains and cruise ships to reach beautiful Lake Saimaa, which begins in Lappeenranta,” Mirka Rahman, head of marketing and tourism in Lappeenranta, told Standby Nordic at the MATKA 2019 travel fair in Helsinki.

“Visiting Russia visa-free from Lappeenranta via a cruise ship during the summer season is already a popular product.”

Upward trend
The Lake Saimaa region already sees a steady flow of Russian visitors, 1.5 million of them in 2018, many of them crossing the border for the day for shopping. Now other nationalities are being noticed in the area, such as 3,000 South Koreans visiting the region on their own initiative last summer, Mirka Rahman says.

The new cross-border project aims to capitalise on this trend by luring more tourists in the winter and shoulder seasons, with activities like cross-country skiing, ice fishing, saunas, Finnish design shopping, Saimaa seal spotting and experiencing Karelian hospitality by foraging in the forests and making local dishes.

The partners will provide information to tour operators on logistics and recommend tourist sites and itineraries, while also working closely with airlines and public transport operators to improve accessibility and ensure smooth transfers.

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