Estonia to see more tourists this year

  • 2003-05-08
  • Justin Petrone

The Estonian tourism industry is expecting a boom in 2003.

Both Estonian Air and the Port of Tallinn have said that they expect record numbers of tourists to descend upon the northern most Baltic state, now seen as a stable, affordable alternative to more risky destinations in the Middle East or Southeast Asia.

In the first quarter of 2003 alone, Estonian Air reported a dramatic 21 percent increase in passengers.

"The first four months of 2003 have been very successful for Estonian Air," said Leela Lilleorg, vice president commercial for Estonian Air.

"From January to April Estonian Air carried almost 100,000 passengers on regular flights, which is 21 percent more than in the same period last year."

The biggest increase has been on the Hamburg route, where the airline has succeeded in increasing passenger turnover threefold in comparison with 2001, said Lilleorg.

Traffic on the Moscow route doubled last year, she added.

The Port of Tallinn has seen a similar increase in passenger traffic.

Erik Sakkov, marketing manager for the state-owned port, said that he expects 235 cruise vessels bearing 220,000 tourists to enter Tallinn this year, signifying an annual increase of 70 cruise vessels' worth of tourists.

The Port of Tallinn saw 150,000 cruise ship passengers enter in 2002, and the overall number of tourists who arrived to Estonia by sea was over 2.2 million people last year.

The increase is partially due to lower fares and increased transportation options, according to industry officials.

Tallinn-based Silja Line, which operates both cruise and faster ships for passengers, recently added another fast ferry to its service between Tallinn and Helsinki.

Meelis Laedo, CEO of Silja Line said that more passengers would come thanks to the quicker travel time.

"More and more passengers and clients use our fast ferries," he said.

To respond to increasing demand, Estonian Air has changed its fare structure using a one-way based fare structure.

This has helped increase passenger turnover on the Frankfurt (47 percent increase), Vilnius (21 percent), London (15 percent) and Kiev (10 percent) routes.

"Such remarkable figures are the direct result of the change of the fare structure on these routes," said Lilleorg.

However, international situations have also figured prominently for tourists making summer plans.

Military operations in Iraq and outbreaks of the lethal SARS in Southeast Asia, have left traditionally popular destinations like Dubai, Cairo, Hong Kong or China less attractive to potential tourists.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board told Reuters on April 29 that it expected a 70 percent decrease in tourism for 2003.

SARS has exacerbated the already tenuous situation in Bali, Indonesia, where the tourism industry suffered tremendously from a terrorist attack on a nightclub that killed hundreds last October.

The Australian Tourism Expert Council reported that decrease in travel due to SARS may cost the nation's tourism industry up to $2 billion.

Other countries where the virus has spread, like Canada, are also expecting a drop, after the World Health Organization temporarily put Toronto on its travel advisory list last month.

In the wake of these calamities, Estonia and the Baltic region have appeared quite stable. With no SARS cases reported and little fear of war or terrorism, the increase in tourist interest is likely to increase throughout the upcoming holiday season.

"We do estimate that in summer the positive trend will continue," said Lilleorg.

"Estonia is continuously strengthening its position as a quality destination for Europeans. The fact, that the region does offer pure nature, peaceful and healthy surroundings, quality infrastructure and service standards. And all of that with competitive prices, promotes the destination by itself;" she said.