TALLINN - According to a January 2003 survey by the Emor pollster, about 51 percent of Estonians aged 18 to 49 went for a trip inside the country for at least two days.
Western and southern Estonia were the hottest inbound tourist destinations, and in general researchers found that more and more low and middle income Estonians were traveling within their homeland's 42,000 square kilometers.
Interestingly, the active local inbound travelers are mostly female, with a university degree, above-average income and residing in Tallinn.
Foreigners, interestingly enough, seem to be following the lead. In place of the one-day trip to Tallinn, replete with drinking and shopping, foreign visitors are opting for a longer stay involving peaceful recreation, according to the national tourist board.
But one thing hasn't changed: as usual, it is the Finns who dominate the market, as they remain the largest tourist group visiting the Baltic country. About 1.8 million out of the total 3.25 million tourists making a stopover in Estonia are Finns.
Still, even the Finno-Ugric relatives are beginning to look beyond the capital. The number of Finns going to Estonia with their own car to explore the sights and sounds of the countryside has grown nearly 20 percent.
If the summer shores of Lake Peipus used to be an area full of Russian-speaking tourists (from both sides of the border), nowadays a camp of Finns is nothing to be surprised about.
So-called rural, or farm, tourism - packages offering accommodation at a genuine operational farm where the lady of the house still wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning to feed the cattle and milk the cow - is particularly popular among foreigners, tourist operators say.
Piret Kallas, tourism surveys coordinator with Enterprise Estonia, a state-managed business promotion agency under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that despite all these trends, Tallinn, Parnu, Tartu and Saaremaa were still the most popular places in Estonia judging by the sheer number of visitors.
On average about 44 percent of the visitors spend some time in the countryside, the most active being guests from the U.S.A., Finland and Germany.
Can the rural tourism market continue to grow? Everyone agrees that there is much to be done before this segment of the market realizes its potential. Money is slowly trickling in, and Enterprise Estonia has channeled some 2 million euros into tourism objects in the northeastern, southern and the western parts of the country.
About half of the money came from the Phare program, which helped renovate the watchtower of the Suur Munamagi mountain.
According to the Estonian Association of Rural Tourism, the country's accommodation enterprises can host up to 25,000 people at once if one also counts companies that are not yet certified, and about half of that accommodation capacity is in the countryside. The Island of Saaremaa, a well-promoted destination, has the highest density of lodgings.