The heavy snowfall and early winter have shown positively in Levi as an increase in overnight stays and the sales of lift tickets. The accommodation capacity has increased, and Levi is anxiously awaiting progress on the West Point project, the largest investment in the region in years.
This winter (19–20) has been good for Levi’s tourism, and accommodation sales are even approaching record numbers. The January accommodation sales of Visit Levi alone were as much as one-tenth ahead of previous years. The strong start promises good sales for the whole year as well, predicts Yrjötapio Kivisaari, CEO of Visit Levi.
– The sales for February-March are also looking very good. February will be our record month, and we have already accumulated 80 % of our sales budgeted for the whole year. This would mean an increase of 3.4 % compared to the previous year.
Kivisaari estimates that the figures reflect not only the snow-free winter of southern Finland but also the threat of the coronavirus around the world.
– People want to experience winter, and we have record snow. It is expected that the viral outbreak can be seen as an increase in domestic sales in early spring, as the spread of the disease worldwide will create uncertainty towards long-distance trips.
According to Kivisaari, the increased and diversified accommodation selection in the Levi area has succeeded in meeting the increased demand. The most significant addition to the accommodation selection has been the 77-room design hotel opened in early winter adjoining the spa hotel.
– Along with Design Hotel Levi, the area’s accommodation selection has been complemented by the high-end Levi Black apartment hotel, Northern Lights Village with its 40 Aurora Cabins, Tonttula’s Aurora Pyramids and Golden Crown’s glass igloos. The increase in northern lights accommodation has contributed to the area’s attractiveness.
In addition to accommodation, the supply of luxury and concierge services is also increasing in Levi.
– We have several operators of different sizes, providing the customer with full service throughout their visit. Experiences connected to romantic life situations, such as honeymoons and engagement trips, with photoshoots and private tours, are also gaining popularity.
Demand for a high-class hotel
Although Levi’s accommodation capacity is currently sufficient to meet even high spikes in demand, there is still demand for a new type of accommodation in the area. According to Kivisaari, Levi is missing a five-star hotel with a sufficient number of large rooms of about 40 square meters.
– It would provide an opportunity to find new target groups for example in the Middle East and some Asian countries with a strong interest in Finnish Lapland. The typical Finnish hotel offering does not necessarily meet the needs of these tourists, as they expect hotels that accommodate large groups with high-class suites with separate living rooms and bedrooms.
There are currently about 60 restaurants in Levi, which Kivisaari thinks could be complemented by more ethnic options, such as restaurants to suit Chinese and Indian tastes.
– Furthermore, I believe there would be demand for a restaurant that would cater to the religious beliefs of people from Muslim countries in their food selection.
Summer travel is growing in Finland
The expansion of Kittilä Airport, right next to Levi, was completed last fall. Finavia’s investment improved the airport’s capacity to handle large volumes of aircraft and passengers during peak winter seasons. In the winter, there are several direct flights per day from Helsinki and Europe to Levi and back, but Kivisaari thinks that inadequate flight connections, especially during the fall, are blocking Levi’s year-round growth.
– During the fall months, we are largely dependent on the triangle flights via Ivalo. These flights are poorly linked to flights from Europe, Asia and India, which increases travel times. Furthermore, the flights via Ivalo are often very crowded with travellers going to Ivalo. Indeed, our strategy for the upcoming fall foliage season is to make better use of the flights via Rovaniemi with the help of ground transportation.
Of the tourists visiting Levi during the year, 55 percent are domestic and 45 percent international. According to Kivisaari, the ratio is appropriate, but a more even distribution of demand throughout the year would be even better. Kivisaari sees domestic tourism in a key role in the growth of summer in Levi and the whole Lapland.
– The lack of flight connections is not a problem in the summer, because you can easily get here on rubber tires and admire the beauty of Finland on the way. Accommodation is inexpensive in the summer, and you can get from Levi to Sweden in less than an hour and Norway in a few hours – we could make better use of this in marketing.
There is also big potential to increase international summer tourism. For example in Norway, summer has been well utilized in tourism, which Kivisaari thinks could bring new customer groups to Levi as well.
– We are in the process of commercializing a tour for pensioners from the United States, including a Hurtigruten cruise in Norway. Summer camps are also a significant business in China, some European countries and the United States, among others, providing a tangible opportunity for us to gain new customers as well.
Progress on the Levi West investment
Opened this winter season and utilizing the latest technology in the industry, the Levi West chairlift complements the offering of the Levi Ski Resort and is the first step in the major West Point investment project. The project includes plans for restaurants, business premises and accommodations with a total of 250 beds by the western slopes of the Levi fell. The seven separate buildings will be located around the lower station of the lift in the shape of a horseshoe.
– It is a ‘ski in, ski out’ concept where the exterior walls of the buildings will be only 20 meters from the lift’s lower station and there will be no car access to the courtyard, says Jouni Palosaari, Managing Director of Levi Ski Resort.
The total investment in the Levi West project is estimated at about 30 million euros, of which the new chairlift accounted for 8 million euros. According to Palosaari, construction of the Levi West village will begin this year.
– The drawings of the first accommodation buildings are ready, and work is expected to begin as early as this summer. We are actively pushing ahead with the project in terms of planning and looking for investors. I believe the Levi West village will be completed within a few years.