In just a few years, Sirly Schinmann and Heidi Seikkula have established themselves as experts in the luxury travel business. Their hotel Aurora Estate in Ylläsjärvi received the award for Best New Boutique Hotel in Europe in the annual Boutique Hotel Awards 2018.
– I received an inquiry via LinkedIn, asking if we had time to discuss ideas for a collaboration. Rahamarkkinakeskus had signed a lease for a hotel site in Inari, and, at that point, there were two potential financiers. We were not the only candidate to operate the hotel, but our concept was very positively received, Sirly Schinmann explains.
Lloyd Amsdon, 46, is one of the founders of the renowned company Watchfinder. He has more than twenty years of experience in the development of online shopping in the watch business, as well as digitalization, marketing and brand building activities.
According to the Sunday Times, Lloyd Amsdon’s company has been among the top 100 fastest-growing companies for three consecutive years and its turnover has grown considerably.
The women met with the British millionaire in the summer and he was impressed by their professionalism. Luxury is Amsdon’s life’s work, and he admires the wilderness in Lapland and the region’s great potential.
Amsdon has said that he believes he has the skill of recognizing potential success and when he spots an opportunity, it must be seized. Now he wants to make sure that Aurora Estate Inari will be completed according to schedule and an increasing number of people will be able to experience Lapland, enjoy the best service available and, if they so wish, the privacy they long for.
– Having already visited the project location twice, experiencing first-hand the amazing services and activities available in this region, I am very enthusiastic about investing in the Aurora Estate Inari Project, Lloyd Amsdon comments.
The other investor is an Inari businessman, CEO Antero Ylävaara, who has become famous as the manager of the Kuukkeli shopping center in Saariselkä.
The estimated budget of the hotel is €7.9 million.
High level of quality and services
Aurora Estate’s story began somewhat by accident. Johanna Koivumaa and Tomi Viuhkola, an entrepreneurial couple active in the Ylläsjärvi area, planned to build a sauna and possibly also a venue for special occasions using a log frame, but before the building was even completed, they made the decision to lease it out.
Sirly Schinmann and Heidi Seikkula had worked together at several restaurants in Ylläs and had discovered that they shared similar ideas about what kind of services should be offered for tourists and locals in Lapland. They wanted to carry out things differently, in their own way and do something that would change the tourism business in Lapland for good.
– We were not the only ones interested in the property, but our business idea was probably the most refined and our presentation impressed the financiers, and as a result, we signed a ten-year lease for the property, explains Heidi, who is the CEO of the company.
The original plans for Aurora Estate comprised about 1,600 square feet, but when the building was finished, it had been extended to nearly 3,800 sq. feet. Heidi Seikkula and Sirly Schinmann have designed the seven unique rooms themselves, as well as the fine dining restaurant that seats 50 people.
Aurora Estate opened for business in December 2015. The ladies were able to attend the Kasvu Open sparring program for SME entrepreneurs the following year.
– That gave us great ideas for growth. We received excellent coaching during those couple of days and were able to identify our strengths. The Aurora Estate concept is based on high quality and customized services, Sirly Schinmann explains.
They both own half of the company running Aurora Estate. They make all decisions together, but have a clear division of tasks: Sirly Schinmann is an artist, who runs the kitchen and manages the marketing activities, while Heidi Seikkula sees to the dining area, the hotel, sauna facilities and finances.
The beginning was not easy, even though Estonia-native Sirly Schinmann had already gained fame in the first season of Finnish Master Chef. Over the first few years, the entrepreneurs worked long hours, but by now, more responsibility has been assigned to the staff.
In the third accounting period, the company turnover reached €425,000 and the accounts showed a profit.
– In the beginning, we had to do a lot ourselves, everything from cleaning and heating the sauna, because we have built this business from scratch with the help of a bank loan and a start-up grant. In the spring, we will go out and tour all the major trade-fair exhibitions to market our new destination in Inari, and our skilled staff will be running the place here, Heidi Seikkula comments.
Sirly Schinmann takes on private gigs for companies and individuals as a chef. Her private chef bookings can even take her to locations out in the fells for a week to serve customers.
The wilderness and serenity attract
The British investor Lloyd Amsdon is fascinated by nature in Lapland. He is also a keen fisherman, and for someone in the international financing sector, it is a luxury to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness in Lapland.
Heidi Seikkula hails from Pello, a small town in Lapland, and already fell in love with Lapland as a child. Sirly Schinmann, who is a native of Estonia, has put down roots in Ylläs after finding her partner, Aleksi, there.
Both of the women have travelled the world but think of Lapland as their home. – I have found myself a big family here through Aleksi and Heidi. It is unbelievable how a place can make you feel at home. This really is where I belong, this is a great place for you to be, Sirly Schinmann explains.
The women cannot imagine exporting their concept to southern Finland. – The wilderness, serenity and purity are our selling points, and they cannot be found elsewhere. If we were forced to leave, we would relocate in northern Sweden or Norway, they declare.
The duo enthuses over how straightforward Lapland is and how great their operating environment is. With only a few operators, networking becomes fast and easy. Like-minded people are prone to find each other, whether it is a question of sourcing ingredients or purchasing additional services for the customers.
– We highly value ethical factors. We prefer to buy from producers in the area and use locally produced foods. The wild duck comes from Sweden, which sometimes puzzles our guests, but when we explain that it is a more locally sourced option than if it came from Oulu or Helsinki, they understand, Heidi Seikkula says.
Seikkula is responsible for purchasing the wines for the restaurant. She seeks to comply with the principles of sustainable development. – The house wine comes from the Fontanafredda Estate in Italy, where environmental conservation is one of the key values. You must have high-quality wines to accompany high-quality meals.
Fast progress for the hotel project and investment in Inari
The Aurora Estate Inari project is well underway and the hotel will be ready in 2021. The hotel, built on the banks of Juutuanjoki River, will feature 41 rooms and a restaurant seating 140-150 people and, like the restaurant at the Ylläsjärvi hotel, will use locally produced, high-quality ingredients. The restaurant will have a Chef’s Table, where customers can learn about the secrets of the chef by watching their work.
Kari Lappalainen, who has designed several well-known buildings in Lapland, is the architect behind the hotel, and its appearance alone will be unique.
– It might no longer be me who picks the berries and mushrooms for the kitchen at the Inari hotel, and perhaps my mother will not be making the jams for the winter breakfast buffet, but we will still know where the ingredients come from and who has picked the berries and mushrooms, Sirly Schinmann plans.
At the moment, most of the Aurora Estate guests come from Europe, for example from Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Europeans will be the primary target group for marketing efforts for the new hotel, too.
– Our concept works best with European guests, but we have already had guests coming in from Singapore and the US without any marketing efforts. We will continue to focus on luxury travel in Inari, too, and we are confident that there is great potential for growth with this concept in the near future, Sirly Schinmann explains.
The women will start marketing the hotel in Inari at the tourism and travel fairs in Berlin, Cannes and Helsinki, but they will also head out to Singapore and Hong Kong.
– Our goal is to have a sufficient occupancy rate right from the moment the hotel opens, Schinmann continues.
Next year, a cookbook by Schinmann and Seikkula, Auroran herkut (Treats from Aurora), in which they openly share their professional tips, will be published. Sirly Schinmann continues filming for the C’More sports channel, but, nowadays, the food tips are filmed in Ylläs, because she is so busy with her business. The women are also in the middle of negotiations with the Finnish design house Pentik for the launch of their own range of tableware.
Sirly Schinmann says that there will always be wealthy people around the world, and they will want to visit Lapland to experience something unique and, therefore, require exclusive services at the destination.