Finland had a great year for tourism, and for Chinese tourism especially. In 2017 the number of Chinese visits to the Nordic country rose by an impressive 63 percent, according to Visit Finland. 2016 saw around 265,000 Chinese visits to the country, and 2017 saw around 432,000. What makes this figure even more significant is the level of spending associated with Chinese travel. Its biggest tourism source market in terms of visits is Russia, with Russian visitors spending on average $295 (240 euro). Chinese tourists, on the other hand, spent on average around $1,553.

Chinese visits to Finland rose by 63 percent, and on average Chinese tourists spent $1,553

For reference, according to the Chinese Tourism Academy (CTA), Chinese tourists made approximately 130 million outbound trips in 2017 and spent a total of $115.29 billion on overseas travel. This puts the average spending for Chinese outbound trips at around $880.

Chinese spending in Finland rose by 39 percent in 2017 to reach a total of $412.5 million

Finland is not a well-known destination globally, let alone in China. Yet, it has been able to punch well above its weight in regards to global Chinese tourism. For example, Britain, a globally renowned destination, attracted 260,000 Chinese visits, lower than Finland’s 2016 figures and much lower than 2017’s figures. Although, it is expected that Chinese tourism to Britain will represent robust growth over 2016.

Much of the success can be attributed to aggressive marketing and industry reorientation. A big part of this effort has been the widespread adoption of Chinese mobile payments, particularly Alipay. Alibaba claims that Finland is the world’s first “all-Alipay” destination. Alibaba even sent eight Chinese tourists to to the country for a “cashless” getaway, touting that the travelers could book flights, make retail purchases, and dine out all with Alipay.

Finland owes its success to clever marketing and reorienting its tourism offerings for Chinese travel

While Alipay adoption may not seem particularly crucial in driving total visits, it can go a long way for a destination like Finland. This is because the majority of the country’s Chinese visitors are simply participating in short stopover trips, something that Visit Finland has prudently pushed as a tourism opportunity, along with Helsinki Airport operator Finavia.

In fact, Finland only attracted 157,980 and 209,124 Chinese visitors that stayed overnight in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The strategy of adopting Alipay is more about making it as easy as possible to visit for a short while on a layover, than making the country a more attractive destination in and of itself.

While Finland may never be able to attract scores of Chinese visitors in and of itself, it nonetheless makes an attractive stopover destination

Given that Finland has no major well-known sites that might attract Chinese visitors and its distance from China, making a “why-not” pitch to Chinese tourists in transit to Germany, France, or elsewhere is probably their best bet in improving visitor numbers. Indeed, much of the country’s strength as a destination for Chinese travelers centers around efforts to market Helsinki as a transit hub between Europe and Asia, with innovative campaigns like “Life in Hel.”

All in all, Finland is a destination with many disadvantages, yet succeeds by leveraging what it has on offer in creative ways to drive Chinese tourism. For destinations yet to take off with Chinese tourists, Finland makes for an interesting case study on how destinations can punch above their weight class in the Chinese tourism market.