Finland eyes U.S. bargain hunters

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NEW YORK -- There's more of everything -- from cruises and flights to hotel rooms and tours -- on tap for Finland this summer, and it can cost a lot less than U.S. visitors might believe, according to officials.

To prove it, the Finnish Tourist Board has posted a list of "dollar-stretching" tours and other products at www.gofinland.org.

Examples include a $599 air-inclusive, three-night Helsinki stay from Continental Journeys; a two-night, air/hotel Icelandair Holidays Helsinki package for $579; a $2,218 air-inclusive, five-night cruise/tour to both Helsinki and Stockholm, Sweden, from Passage Tours; and Nordique Tours' eight-night King's Road Package, priced from $2,099 with air for travel in May or $2,299 from June 1 to Oct. 31.

King's Road itineraries remain the most popular tours among U.S. visitors, said Nino Messia de Prado, the Finnish Tourist Board's director for North America.

Accordingly, 33 operators are offering related product this year, including new "mix-and-match" specialized tour modules that can be tacked onto standard itineraries.

"The King's Road, which we still market as our primary product in the U.S., encompasses all the elements Americans look for: historical, scenic, cultural and culinary highlights in the southern part of Finland," said Messia de Prado.

The international nature of the King's Road tourism route -- which stretches from Oslo, Norway, to St. Petersburg, Russia, through Finnish cities such as Helsinki, Porvoo, Turku and Rauma -- is typical of the sort of tour most Americans visiting Finland choose, he said.

Messia de Prado estimated that 70% of U.S. visitors opt to combine Finland with neighboring destinations.

"The typical tourists who visit our region have traveled extensively and would like to combine as much of Scandinavia, the Baltics and Russia as possible on their trips," he said.

Responding to that demand, local cruise companies, including Viking Line and Silja Line, now offer one-day to one-week sailings to cities such as St. Petersburg; Riga, Latvia; Tallinn, Estonia; and Visby, Sweden.

According to Messia de Prado, a record number of cruise ships will call in Finnish ports this year, helping to fuel what could be a 5% to 10% jump in arrivals from the U.S. in 2004.

"Last year was not a record year, [and] we were down about 6%," he said. "But the U.S. travel trade is telling us that so far they're having a record year. Operators are even telling us they have waiting lists for programs that include Finland."

Another development that should boost visitor numbers is the debut of thrice-weekly Icelandair service -- on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays -- from Reykjavik, Iceland, on June 4.

The carrier is promoting the summer flights with roundtrip fares to Helsinki, via Reykjavik, starting at $614 from Baltimore, Boston and New York and $664 from Minneapolis and Orlando.

"The additional airlift will be very welcome, but the problem may be not enough bed space," said Messia de Prado.

That's a bit less of a problem in the capital now that the 238-room Hilton Helsinki Kalastajatorppa -- the chain's second area property -- has opened. The Hilton Strand reopened in January 2003.

For more, contact the Finnish Tourist Board at (800) FIN-INFO or at www.gofinland.org.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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