How Visit Finland wants to create an ideal digital customer experience
The vision of Visit Finland is that Finland will become a smart, pioneering destination, that provides the best customer journey from daydreaming to travel. This vision has resulted in Visit Finland’s mission to build a nation-wide digital ecosystem to support sustainable growth in travel. Kaisa Kosonen, Digital Development Manager at Visit Finland, explains what Finland does as a country and as a tourism industry to get the country digitalized.
The capital city of Helsinki is already quite digitalized, the city even won an award for Smart city. This city has not only been collecting data but has also been sharing its open data since 2009. As a result, together with companies from outside the tourism industry, Helsinki Marketing was able to innovate on topics such as accessibility, sustainability, digitalization and cultural heritage. One of the digital examples is the launch of the MyHelsinki app. According to Tia Hallanoro from Helsinki Marketing, this is the new travel. The reason is that this app can be fully personalized, and all the information is based on local, open data. MyHelsinki API (which is an application programming interface) makes the possibilities easy to find. It shows the most interesting events, up-to-date information and relevant data of activities.
Chinese travelers in Helsinki and a digital ecosystem
It is tailor-made for different audiences, such as for Chinese Free Independent Travelers (FIT). For the development of this specific tailor-made app, Helsinki Marketing had to work together with the Chinese tech giant Tencent, since the Chinese travel market has a completely different digital ecosystem compared to the travel markets Finland was familiar with. WeChat, an all-in-one app with over 1 billion users, is in some ways replacing internet in China according to Tia Hallanoro and for that reason, the MyHelsinki app needed to be integrated into WeChat. The biggest challenges for Helsinki Marketing were related to putting all the services in one app, regarding discovering Helsinki, finding the best local experiences & sights, getting around easily and paying for commodities and experiences. Sources that have been integrated are Bing (Map API), Whim (routes, transport schedules and tickets), MyHelsinki (Open API) and Tencent (user profile, saved favorites, phone, AI translations).
For Tencent, Helsinki is serving as an intelligent tourism model for China’s outbound tourism, the next generation FITs. This is in line with 2018 EU – China Tourism Year (ECTY), a year in which the European Union and China stimulate commercial and cultural exchanges between the tourism business, authorities, and other stakeholders. One of the objectives that the EU and China agreed on, is to improve travel and tourism experiences. Visit Finland and Tencent are both participating as business partners in ECTY.
Digitalization of Finland on a national level
Visit Finland now wants to digitalize Finland on the national level, although the organization realizes that this will be a very difficult task. At the same time, Kaisa Kosonen, Digital Development Manager at Visit Finland, explains that Finland is a small country and that there are many digital experts living in Finland. “Digital innovation is coded in Finnish DNA,” according to Business Finland. Finland has brought SMS, 5G and the Linux operating system to the world and you can even find Finnish sensors on Mars. For that reason, Visit Finland believes that they can do it, together with all its regions.
Creating integrated product inventory utilizing APIs
Together with a small expert group, Visit Finland developed a roadmap. In 2018 Finland wants to start with pilots around digital customer experiences and data, as well as with research on different reservation systems and APIs.
Eventually, in 2020 Visit Finland wants to use the digital customer experience as a distinguishing strategy and asset. However, in order to be able to realize that, first more research needs to be done and more tools need to be developed to improve, among others, data collaboration. For instance, most tours and activities of northern Europe are booked in the province of Lapland. People want to sled and do reindeer safaris. But it is still not possible to book these tours online. Travelers do not experience a seamless purchase path and don’t receive real-time information. Yes, it is possible to book the hotels online, but it is thus not possible to book the experiences in Lapland online. Visit Finland wants to create a multichannel system, which connects everything. From hotels to experiences. Another example according to Kaisa Kosonen is the Lakeland in Finland. Here the several DMOs want to build one data house that can be used by all different DMOs in that region.
Pilots and scaling up
Each region has its own focus, own project for the following years. Kaisa Kosonen explains that the Turku region for example, is going to focus on the question of how they can help tourists to find and get to the hidden gems of Turku and its archipelago? Lapland on the other hand, is going to find an answer to the question how they define and design the ideal digital customer journey? And other regions are going to research and try how they can share and analyze data and learn to offer the rights things at the right time.
All these pilots together, eventually need to answer the question of Visit Finland how to create the best digital customer experience for the next generation traveler.
By Miranda Cornelisse, MSc., Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. Miranda is lecturer Global Marketing & Sales and researcher at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. As a researcher, she is specialized in sustainability, experience design and online marketing & branding in tourism. In her academic research (PhD) she currently focuses on how (online) tourist experiences can contribute to the sustainability of tourism destinations.