Building of Tourism City Brand, Case from Helsinki – The Most Functional City in the World

Speech at Fragrant Hills Tourism Summit, Qingdao, China
Main Forum (Keynote Speech session)

Excellencies,
Esteemed Chair,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year we attended the WTCF forum for the very first time in Los Angeles. One of the concrete outcomes was a partnership with Tencent. As a result of those conversations we started to develop smart travel services for Chinese tourists together. Designed especially for Chinese visitors, the WeChat MyHelsinki mini program is the first city app in the world to combine tailored personal recommendations, planning and purchase options for travelers. In the near future, Chinese travelers visiting Helsinki will be able to use WeChat to review local recommendations about best restaurants and sights in town, plan how they can get from their hotel to the restaurant and pay for their transportation and the restaurant check using the same app.

This experience with Tencent has taught us many things about the future of travel. More profoundly, it has also transformed the way we carry out city marketing and how we brand Helsinki. Our focus is on the entire city as an experience – not a single attraction.

Our ability to connect with the local community and make them support what we do is essential. The Helsinki brand is based on the people that make the community – not a single subject or a slogan.

This morning you received a Helsinki package with a red book titled “The most functional city in the world”. This is what Helsinki aims to be. This means many things – for example that roads are safe, public transportation functions and relationship with city officials is easy.

However, in today’s global competition this is not enough. We must also be desirable enough to attract educated workforce, investments and new travelers. Functionality must be complemented with desirability. In today’s world one of the things we desire is the authentic in life – localness.

Localness is at the core of everything we do. We believe that by making Helsinki attractive to its residents, travelers will also follow. The local community is at the core of the urban life in Helsinki. Many events and experiences are created by ordinary people or small companies. The city’s role is to be the best possible platform for these developments People living in Helsinki are our best ambassadors. The MyHelsinki mini program is Helsinki in small scale – in the pocket of millions of Chinese.

We realize that Helsinki is for acquired taste. We will never be a mass market destination and are happy to leave that to some other destinations. Our focus is on quality – not quantity. This also supports our mission to develop tourism in a sustainable way. It’s a known fact that a congress visitor leaves substantially more money behind than a cruise ship passenger. As a small city we must concentrate on the most beneficial outcome for the city. Tourism brings many new services to the city but at the same time we must make sure that it does not minimize the services valued by the locals. Helsinki takes its responsibility as a facilitator seriously. We know that the travelers are getting more and more demanding, but we also know that the local population needs more. When we are the best version of ourselves to the local audiences we also offer the best of Helsinki to the travelers. This might not be an idea for the masses – but for a single city 1% is enough - as long as they are from the top end.

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Helsinki has for long had a special relationship with China. The very first commercial flight between China and Europe took place 30 years ago, in 1988. It was a flight between Beijing and Helsinki. We are the shortest route between Asia and Europe. Today Finnair has almost 40 weekly flights from Helsinki to seven different cities in China, making us the leading hub of Northern Europe. The growing number of travelers and changing travel habits demand new ways to cater for the Chinese travelers. More Chinese want to experience the cities as independent travelers and try local, genuine experiences. This makes them part of the global trend of localness.

The growing number of tourists also inspires us to search for tourism-related investments from abroad. The growing number of Chinese travelers means a need for new airline routes and hotels investments, hopefully even Chinese ones. Our great experience of the partnership with Tencent also inspires us to find Chinese partners for other travel-related services.

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A few days ago I was in Beijing meeting with the Mayor of Beijing. Yesterday I had the pleasure to meet with the Mayor of Qingdao. In all of these meeting before and during the WTCF the message is the same: the time for collaboration is now. Cities, businesses and associations come together with the same question in mind – how do we secure the sustainable growth of the global tourism trend. This is why forums like the WTCF are so important.

The WTCF brings together the most powerful decision-makers in tourism industry. The questions we discuss in Qingdao today will become the reality of travel tomorrow. Helsinki is proud to host the Summit next year and carry on the legacy of the Fragrant Hills Tourism Summit. This will also give you the opportunity to experience the Helsinki tourism city brand first hand. The most functional city in the world awaits you.