One of the very first activities of the Contemporary Old City Project in North Karelia, Finland was to make an inventory of cultural and historical sites in the region. Naturally, many already existing channels of touristic information were used as sources of information. Furthermore, some materials produced by regional authorities were utilised, too. For example, the Regional Land Use Plan (Regional Council of North Karelia) offered detailed information about built cultural environments as well as culturally and historically valuable buildings.
The inventory work resulted in a list of 500 objects in North Karelia. The selected approach to culture and history was wide, and objects related to handicraft, arts, music, theatre, local history, history of businesses, history of transportation, religion, galleries, food, statues and monuments, museums, architecture, etc. were equally taken into account. All sites were listed, firstly, by municipalities, and secondly, by thematic content. Only after this process was it possible to describe the core content of our region’s history and culture, and place the sites in this overall picture of culture tourism in our region.
How will this material be used in the development of culture tourism in North Karelia? The inventory was exactly what was needed to produce background information for the Culture Tourism section on the revamped VisitKarelia.fi website, which will be launched on 16 Jan 2014 at the Nordic Travel Fair in Helsinki. Even before decision on how to structure the Culture section in practice, it was found extremely useful to benchmark how the same thing has been done elsewhere. For example, the VisitEstonia website is an impressive example with interesting story-based content and a strong thematic approach. For sure, we are not able to offer tourism information in 14 languages as the Estonians currently do, but this example was in many ways worthy of deeper familiarisation.
Tourism is growing and the amount of Russian tourists has been increasing in Finland, including North Karelia, South Karelia and the Helsinki area. There are also many regions, for example, in Estonia and Latvia, which are now actively investing in the development of culture tourism products and services in general, and for the Russian market in particular. Why not exchange experiences and share knowledge with tourism developers, who are facing similar challenges and searching for feasible solutions? Personally, I was lucky to be among those whose application to the Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme of the Nordic Council of Ministries was approved this year. The grant enabled one week’s study trip to Tallinn, Riga and Cesis.
From the study trip, I returned with a suitcase full of touristic materials, many new contact details to be added to the network, plenty of new experiences to be shared and a lot of new ideas to be implemented in our own ENPI project. In many discussions with Estonian and Latvian colleagues, it was continuously emphasised that the culture sector needs investments and development initiatives, even in economically tough periods.
In many regions the role of tourism in the regional economy is growing. At the same time, the structure and volume of culture services are under political discussion. How can a sufficient range of cultural services be maintained or even improved in this complicated economic situation? In practice, how well can the expectations of culture tourists be met at weekends, if, for example, museums are closed on Saturdays and Sundays because of municipal budget cuts? It is a question of strategic decisions, product and service development with innovative solutions, intensified productisation, etc., and first and foremost, a clear understanding of the importance of tourism for the regional economy and importance of cultural content to the regional tourism offering.
Project Manager, City of Joensuu
Contemporary Old City: Enhancing Cultural Tourism across the Border