NEW YORK -- Finland has sparked the interest of a growing number of
tour operators, a survey conducted by the Finnish Tourist Board
"Four or five years ago, the trend was to visit Finland
independently," said Nino Messia de Prado, director of the tourist
"Over the past year, tour operator packages are coming back because
people know they can get the best deal through an operator. It's a
The board's King's Road program, a promotion of the country's
southern coast, has drawn new interest, de Prado said. "The program
has helped Finland's image," he said. King's Road bookings,
however, are still "mediocre."
The King's Road follows the route that 14th century Swedish
kings traveled on their way to Russia (neighboring Finland was part
of Sweden from the 14th century until 1809). Taverns and manor
houses built to serve the king's men are found along the road.
The program, launched with five U.S. operators, has since been
picked up by another 16. Operators were skeptical of the King's
Road idea at first, but it is now catching on in other countries,
de Prado said. Italian, French and German operators added the
program last year, and Japanese operators plan to adopt it this
year, he said.
Several operators offer biking and golf tours along King's Road.
"You can golf among the ruins of castles," de Prado said.
In the snowy season, travelers can combine King's Road with
Lapland, a northern wilderness that is the legendary home of Santa
Claus. Lapland -- billed as one of Europe's few unspoiled forests
-- covers one-third of Finland.
U.S. visitors, however, flock to Europe for history and culture
rather than for nature, de Prado said. "We had thought that
Americans would want to ski in Lapland, where snow is guaranteed,"
de Prado said. "But we found that they are more interested in the
area's native Sami people, who herd reindeer. Now we will focus on
the culture of Lapland."
Winter in Finland tends to scare Americans, however, who
envision something similar to Siberia. The country's weather is
actually similar to that of New England, de Prado said.
"We have to convince Americans that our climate is temperate.
We're near the Gulf Stream." Helsinki temperatures average 37
degrees Fahrenheit in November, 31 in December, 26 in January, 25
in February and 32 in March.
Those who do venture to Finland tend to be seasoned travelers
above the age of 55, de Prado said. "They have already visited four
or five major international destinations before deciding to go to
Finland," he added.
The tourist board created a King's Road Web site, www.thekingsroad.com, because this older group has
more time to spend on the Internet, he said.
Many visitors to Finland opt to fly to another Scandinavian
country, de Prado added. Some also combine St. Petersburg, Russia,
with Finland, while others take a two-hour ferry to Tallinn,