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,
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.
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
"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."
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
"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
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
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
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
Estonian Holidays, Tallinn
Phone: (011) 372-641-2501
Fax: (011) 372-641-2500
Estonian Tourist Board
Estonian Air, Miami
Phone: (800) 397-1354
Fax: (305) 492-9053