There is an ongoing discussion in the Finnish tourism industry about our digital tourism capabilities. We are looking up to Iceland and how they are promoting and selling their tourism services and products on the Internet. It seems that we think that technology and online travel packages will be the key to grow tourism numbers in the country. Even though Iceland has done a fantastic job in making their tourism services easily accessible online, they have done an even better job at marketing the country. They have had successful global marketing campaigns one after another. They managed to utilize the visibility the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull created by advertising their country as a tourism destination whenever the eruption was mentioned in the news. They launched stopover buddy campaign together with Iceland Air stopover service, providing worldwide visibility for the destination. This is something that we have not been able to replicate. New service innovations should always be connected with marketing innovations. Iceland Air bests Finnair in many social media scores. Iceland is more often used Google search term than Finland.
Destination success is not just about technology
I think we are focusing too much on technology when we are discussing how to develop Finnish tourism industry. I would say that we need to put more effort into marketing Finland as a tourism destination. We need more people to be aware and interested in the destination. We need to focus on creating attractive and known destination image. Iceland has managed to create an attractive destination image and brand through marketing. When a destination becomes trendy it creates a positive cycle. When that cycle is supported by great marketing and sales, then all the blocks fit together.
E-business is just one of many, many aspects that affect the success of a destination. Effects of technology are much more significant at individual business level. We do not have enough academic research about how the use and level of technology affect international visitor numbers of a national destination. Not to mention daily expenditure and other statistics. It is already easy for a tourist to book a hotel room and flights, and even several services, so I do not think that the technology is the main problem when we want to grow the number of tourists.
If no one is interested in the destination it does not matter how well and easily you can plan and book your holiday. Technology alone hardly makes anyone choose the destination they want to visit. If a tourist wants to visit a destination, they will find a way to do that. However, in the case they are comparing two or more different destinations they might choose the one that makes their life less difficult. Technological capabilities of individual businesses do not have that big a role for international tourists, or at least it is difficult to find research that would say otherwise.
The most important way technology affects visitor numbers is through its possibilities to change and develop destination image. In this regard, social media is the key to success. Every contact between a tourist and a destination affects destination image, both affective as well as cognitive image. Social media makes it possible to reach billions of people, makes it fun for people to participate in destination marketing campaigns and most of all makes it possible to interact with people. However, it is not enough just to be on social media. A destination needs to live and breath social media. It needs to have a voice of its own. Iceland has found a common voice, but Finland has several different voices: Lapland, Helsinki, Lakeland and Archipelago. I think we still haven’t precisely figured out what Finland actually is all about in tourism and how to communicate that to the world.
Give marketing a credit
We should not give too much credit for Iceland because how they sell their tourism products online. I think it mostly increases the average daily expenditure of tourists as they can have more information about and purchase more services and activities. Of course, if the packages sold themselves are so attractive that they make the tourist choose the destination then technology and online selling channels can have an influence on tourist numbers.
What we should give credit for Iceland is for their ability to market the destination and have a global reach with limited resources. They have gotten people to Google them. They have understood that marketing needs to be newsworthy. Finland needs to understand that if we want more tourists, we need to do better marketing. If we want tourists to spend more, we need to be better at selling. If we want them to come back and tell about us to their social circles, we need to have better, more emotional experiences and services. Technology should not be the aim of tourist development, just a tool to tell and sell the story of the destination.
I study how changes in technology and consumer behaviour affect tourism marketing. Professor of Tourism Business at University of Eastern Finland and IFITT President.