Estonia partners with U.S. operator on tours


NEW YORK -- "No one seems to know where or what Estonia is," wrote British author Ronald Seth. In his 1939 book "Baltic Corner: Travel in Estonia," he recalled that a British magazine publisher once mailed a letter to a friend, presumably living in "Tallinn, Estonia, Greece."

Western perceptions might not have changed all that much in 63 years, but today's inhabitants of Estonia -- a tiny pacesetter among former Soviet republics on northern Europe's Baltic Sea -- are working hard to stand out from the post-Communist crowd. Officials there see tourism as key.

To that end, the Estonian Tourist Board, located in the country's capital of Tallinn (the organization has no U.S. offices), partnered with 4-year-old U.S. tour operator Amest Travel in New York to promote the up-and-coming Baltic destination to U.S. travelers.

In addition, national carrier Estonian Air established a U.S. marketing office in Miami.

"I don't think there has been any message coming across in the U.S. about the vacation opportunities in Estonia," said Reimo Pettai, acting consul general of the Estonian consulate in New York. "For example, there's our unspoiled natural environment -- that should surely draw U.S. visitors."

While many operators specializing in Scandinavian, eastern European and Russian holidays offer stops in Estonia as part of wider Baltic tours, Amest -- owned and operated by Estonian-Americans -- is peddling some of the first Estonia-only tour product available in the U.S. in an effort to increase the length of the average stay.

According to the tourist board, 98,672 U.S. travelers visited Estonia last year -- a 12% increase over 2000 -- but only 14% of them stayed overnight.

And most of these never left attraction-rich Tallinn, having arrived in the city's preserved medieval quarter by ship or ferry as part of a larger Baltic cruise or a day trip from nearby Helsinki, Finland.

"Our attention is now focused on increasing the share of tourists who arrive by plane and stay for more than two to three days," said Pettai.

"To see Tallinn alone is not complete -- it's like a puzzle missing some of the pieces," he continued. "We'd like to show visitors Tallinn and then the rest of Estonia."

Traditional windmills dot the coastline of the island of Saaremaa, designated part of a Unesco biosphere reserve. Accordingly, Amest has cobbled together a six-night Beautiful Estonia tour package that sandwiches consecutive day trips to the college town of Tartu and the rural western islands of Saaremaa or Hiiumaa between two full two-day stays in the up-to-the-minute capital, which has become a trendy favorite with both young and sophisticated European travelers.

"In the summer you can spend a whole week in Estonia," said Eve Saar, general manager at Amest, which to date mainly had booked ethnic travel. "There's always something going on, such as Old Town Days events, bonfires and other festivals."

The Beautiful Estonia package is priced at $999 per person, double, with air on Finnair or SAS, or $555 for land only.

Travel agent commission is normally 10% but varies based on the particular tour sold, according to Saar.

Amest also offers a two-night city break in Tallinn priced from $180 per person and will develop new, all-Estonia tour itineraries come fall.

"Our main goal now is to pinpoint new, attractive [offerings] in Estonia that other countries don't have," said Saar. "It's really hard for us native Estonians to see things for what they really are; we need Americans to come back and tell us what they liked."

Amest also peddles a more traditional, 10-night Visit Scandinavia package combining Tallinn with a cruise on the Silja Line between Helsinki and Stockholm, Sweden.

Another all-Estonia option is offered by inbound operator Estonian Holidays in Tallinn.

A six-night "Best of Estonia" plan combines the capital with the university and observatory in Tartu; St. Catherine's Church and the Red Tower in Parnu; and the Eemu Windmill and village of Koguva on Saaremaa.

The price is $1,116 per person, double, for two traveling together; $720 per person for four in twin rooms; and $585 per person for six in three twin rooms. Agent pay is 10%.

Included are an English-speaking guide, minibus, ferry tickets, entrance fees, accommodations and breakfast daily.

The operator also offers wider Baltic, Scandinavian and Russian itineraries.

Meanwhile, Estonian Air, which flies only intra-European routes but is a code-share partner with transatlantic carrier SAS, opened a U.S. marketing office in Miami and named Jerry-Max Theophile regional sales manager.

Book It: Estonia 101

Amest Travel, New York
Phone: (718) 972-2217
Fax: (718) 851-4175
E-mail:[email protected]

Estonian Holidays, Tallinn
Phone: (011) 372-641-2501
Fax: (011) 372-641-2500
E-mail:[email protected]

Estonian Tourist Board
E-mail:[email protected]

Estonian Air, Miami
Phone: (800) 397-1354
Fax: (305) 492-9053
E-mail:[email protected]

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