Officials in Oulu, northern Finland, have been working to promote Japanese inbound tourism. But with travel restrictions in place, they’ve had to come up with other ways to maintain interest.
A recent online event organized by Asahi Travel International in Tokyo saw 15 students chat with Finnish families. One of the key discussion points was how Christmas is celebrated in the country.
Kato Miyu, 16, from Japan's Hiroshima Prefecture, took part. She's interested in the Scandinavian welfare system. Her high school usually offers short-term fieldwork experiences overseas, but canceled them during the past year due to the pandemic. Kato says the online event made her feel closer to Finnish people and piqued her curiosity. She also relished the chance to test out her English conversation skills.
A tour agency in Oulu supported the event. The city has been promoting educational tours since 2015. A wireless technology hub, it has two universities with about 40,000 students, and used to host a major operations center for telecommunications giant Nokia. About 4,500 local jobs were lost when the company slashed its foothold around the time its mobile phone business was bought by Microsoft in 2013.
City officials turned to tourism in a bid to recover. A campaign focuses on Japan and China, but without major drawcards like aurora observations or the Moomin World theme park, some visitors were coming with learning in mind. The Finnish educational system itself has become a tourism product, so officials have put together a guidebook in Chinese and Japanese that lists institutions in the region that offer programs or workshops for foreigners.
Those efforts started to bear fruit in recent years, but the coronavirus pandemic stopped everything. The only way for Oulu to remain connected with its tourism markets is through online virtual tours. The Christmas event for Japanese students was part of that effort.
The city also markets one of its more unusual attractions – the annual air guitar world championship, which it has hosted for 25 years. Thousands of people normally visit the city in August to take part.
In November, Japanese agency Hokuo Travel organized an online event for 20 participants. They learned how air guitar has brought some fun to the Oulu region, and even let rip with their own performances.
A Hokuo Travel manager, Kawamura Shingo, says while the profits from online sessions are minimal, they do keep people engaged. The firm hopes the effort will bring in new customers when overseas tourism resumes.
Foreign travel may be a long way off, but the industry that promotes Japanese tourism to Finland is doing everything it can to stay connected in the meantime.