Finland’s northernmost municipality is Utsjoki, where the tourism industry relies on the wild nature, Sámi culture and the vicinity of the Norwegian border. The entrepreneurs of the tourism company Holiday Village Valle have faith in the future and develop a new form of accommodation.
Lapland is known to be an Arctic holiday destination. Still, the busiest holiday season in the northern municipality of Utsjoki is a snow-free period when tourists arrive to go hiking, canoeing and fishing. The work carried out in the area to develop the year-round season has begun to bear results.
The Sámi family-run business Holiday Village Valle is located in the vicinity of untouched nature along River Tenojoki. The holiday village’s hotel and cabins offer beautiful views across the river to the Norwegian fells. Restaurant Deatnu treats its visitors with local raw ingredients, and its menu provides an opportunity to familiarise oneself with the Sámi culture.
The holiday village was established in 2013, and its busiest season was initially the summer and autumn seasons, but the company has strongly invested in year-round tourism. A year-round approach also makes tourism sustainable, which is important.
– Nowadays, the number of tourists is near enough equal in the summer and the winter, states Anne Forsell, Hotel Director and Entrepreneur.
Before the coronavirus crisis, just under 6,000 visitors stayed at the holiday village each year. International tourists tend to come during the winter and through tour operators, but nowadays, some foreigners also make their own bookings. Most international visitors come to Holiday Village Valle from Central Europe and the UK. Finnish tourists come to Utsjoki in the summer and make their own bookings.
A new experience with Sámi peat huts
A few years ago, a 12-room balcony-access hotel and cosy cabins were built at the holiday village. It has been entrepreneur Petteri Valle’s plan for a long time to implement an entirely new form of accommodation, which combines Sámi history and the accommodation of modern-day tourists in Lapland. As a result of development work, a 35-square-metre peat hut was implemented, which offers a new accommodation experience.
The hut is built with logs, and its surface is made of peat. Its large windows allow guests to admire the midnight sun as well as the Northern Lights of midwinter. Sustainability is an important value for Holiday Village Valle, and, therefore, the building materials have been selected accordingly. Accommodation is marketed for year-round use.
– It will become a traditional Sámi hut covered with peat and is partly camouflaged with the terrain. In the olden days, they were naturally smaller than this current one, describes Hotel Director Forsell.
The first hut, which is at its construction stage, is a prototype, and it will be ready by the summer. After it has been built, three more shall be built. The estimated cost of the investment is 125,000 euros.
– We also have plans for a different version of the hut to be implemented in a different location. The concept is the same, but it is built in a slightly different style, says Forsell as she describes the project.
In Finland, Business Finland issued grants to companies when the effects of the coronavirus crisis had the most significant impact. Holiday Village Valle was granted 100,000 euros for the development work of the peat huts and the domestic market.
A unique environment increases the attractiveness
One of Utsjoki’s factors of attraction is the wild and untouched nature. Teno offers excellent opportunities for various outdoor activities in the wilderness areas of Paistunturi and Kaldoaivi, while the Norwegian fells can be seen on the other side of River Tenojoki.
– This a very different destination compared to other destinations in Lapland. We are located along River Tenojoki, with the terrace sitting almost on the river and providing views across to Norway. This is a very picturesque area with extraordinary landscapes, Forsell describes.
Utsjoki’s unique location at the border of Norway increases the destination’s attractiveness and enables many opportunities, which cannot be found in other areas. The destination also attracts tourists who wish to visit Norway from Finland, and vice versa, during the same holiday.
Tourists, who arrive in the north, wish to experience the tranquillity, peace and authenticity of the area. These same factors will be important trump cards after the coronavirus crisis when tourists seek their own space, safety distances and safety.
– People have already arrived here before when they do not want to visit a mass destination, and that will certainly be highlighted.
Confident about the future
– Last summer was impressively good because the Norwegian border was open and travelled back and forth.
The summer season of 2020 was excellent for Utsjoki’s tourism industry. Between May and October, there were 23,700 registered overnight stays in Utsjoki, which is 32 per cent higher than during the same period last year. Accommodation sales also increased in the summer season by 27 per cent.
– Not everyone dares to travel abroad yet, although there is a desire to go somewhere, and we are a sufficiently exotic destination. I can see the upcoming summer being a good season for all of Lapland, Forsell believes.
The upcoming winter season 2021-2022 seems to be heading for a good start as long as the borders are opened and there are a sufficient number of flights. Foreign tourists, mainly Germans, have made bookings with Holiday Village Valle for holidays in December and January.