Estonian Business, Innovation Agency: Estonia's tourism fueled by Latvians, Finns

  • 2024-02-09
  • LETA/BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - Estonian tourism data for 2023, published by Statistics Estonia on Thursday, confirms that domestic tourism continues to show very good results, with record numbers of visits being made by Latvian tourists, and the number of visits by Finns to Tallinn likewise bouncing back, according to tourism director at the Estonian Business and Innovation Agency Rainer Aavik.

"In short, the recovery of our foreign tourism to the pre-crisis level depends on additional trips by vacationers. Global economic confidence has decreased, but the main trip, usually a beach holiday in the south, is still made. Estonia is more of a destination for an additional trip, and significantly fewer additional trips are made under current conditions. It is all the more important for the country to consistently capture the attention of those still looking for a destination for that additional trip," Aavik said.

He pointed out that destinations in southern Europe have recovered well, but it will take more time for others to bounce back.

"For Estonian tourism, this means we need to give our neighbors even better reasons to visit. Considering the growth in the share of nearby markets, the quickest recipe for bringing people here and increasing tourism revenue is good events," the tourism director said.

The survey by the agency's tourism department reveals that almost all Latvian and Finnish tourists would recommend their friends to visit Estonia and plan to return to Estonia for a trip within the next five years.

The full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine affects tourism to some extent, but less so than economic uncertainty. The latest survey by the European Travel Commission in September last year shows that on average, 13 percent of Europeans avoid traveling to countries perceived to be close to war. According to the same survey, nearly 40 percent need to reconsider their travel decisions due to tighter budgets, including 22 percent affected by increased travel costs and 16 percent by uncertainty about their personal financial situation, such as job security and rising housing costs.

Finland is the most important foreign market for Estonia, remaining the largest even when visitation numbers are not at record levels. Finns contribute 39 percent of Estonia's tourism revenue, spending EUR 1.3 million in Estonia per day. In Tallinn, the number of Finns has returned to pre-crisis levels, but elsewhere in the country, it is still down by a third.

"Finns are repeat visitors but currently they travel to Estonia less for economic reasons. This means they are more likely to skip those trips that require extra effort, expenses and traveling beyond Tallinn," Aavik explained.

Meanwhile, the number of overnight stays by Latvian visitors grew last year in almost every county in Estonian. In comparison between the two largest nearby markets, Finland and Latvia, overnight stays by Latvians cannot yet cover the decline in visits by Finns, as there are still nearly four times more overnight stays by Finns despite a record number of visits by Latvians.

Strong number of overnight stays by Latvians and domestic tourists together compensated for the portion previously brought to the Estonian economy by Russian tourists before the war.

"Our surveys also show that traveling abroad does not diminish Estonians' desire to explore their homeland, so the entire tourism sector has reason to be grateful to the people of Estonia for last year," Aavik said.

Last year also saw good results from Lithuanian tourists, whose number of visits has also returned to pre-crisis levels. One of the strongest markets is also the United States, which is only a tenth away from the top result. In terms of expenditure contributing to the Estonian economy, US visitors rank fifth. 

"We consistently market to tourism professionals in the United States in cooperation with the Nordic countries, and it bears fruit. The United States is in the top three foreign markets for both Norway and Sweden, and Estonia has not yet fully realized its potential in this market," the tourism director said.

The United Kingdom is still down by a quarter compared to pre-crisis times as a tourism market, Germany and Sweden by about a third. Markets like Japan and China, which showed good results before the crises, have not recovered at all, with visits down by more than 70 percent. 

"Pandemic restrictions lasted long there, foreign passports expired, and air travel became more complicated due to the war - figuratively, the war in Ukraine has pushed Asia and Australia further away from all of Europe. They can no longer fly in our direction over Russia, which means four hours of additional flight time. Connections are fewer, and flight tickets are noticeably more expensive than before the war," Aavik explained.

A survey published by the Bank of Estonia on Thursday shows that foreign tourists, more of whom again found their way to Estonia last year, spent more than EUR 1.2 billion in this country last year. These data do not include expenses on international transport. The total revenue from foreign tourism, including transport, was a record two billion euros in 2019, with the projected total revenue from last year being EUR 1.7 billion. The Bank of Estonia will publish detailed data on this in March.