HAPPINESS IN FINLAND
This year Finland topped the World Happiness Report, in which 156 countries were ranked by happiness levels, based on factors such as freedom, honesty, welfare, good health, and generosity.
And while the nation in the heart of Northern Europe is evidently a great place to live and work, it also scores highly with meetings and event organisers, who find Finland's well-designed conference facilities, warm welcome and outdoors-led incentives a major draw. Each year, more than 600 international meetings attended by almost 70,000 delegates are held there.
"Finland is one of the most popular congress countries in the world," states Nina Hilden of Finland Convention Bureau.
"It is known for its competitive economy and national creativity. Finns enjoy a high standard of living and hold cultural expression of all kinds in high regard.
"In Finland everything works well, and Finnish suppliers are always professional. Finnish people are friendly and hospitable, and English is widely spoken across the country."
There are around 1,100 MICE venues situated across Finland – from congress centres and hotels, to log cabins and cruise ships - meaning you are certain to find the ideal place for your next event, whatever the size or format.
If your forthcoming event requires lots of space and innovation, consider Messukeskus Helsinki Expo & Convention Centre. Finland's largest congress venue comprises seven halls, 40 meeting rooms, a 4,400-seat auditorium, hotel and 21 restaurants. It also recently installed an augmented reality app.
Also offering plenty of space is Tampere Hall in the southern city of Tampere. The venue is the largest purpose-built congress and concert centre in Scandinavia and as well as exhibition halls, conferencing facilities and meeting rooms, can provide catering and banqueting services for up to 3,000 guests. At the end of 2019, the Marriott International hotel chain will open its first hotel in Finland in connection with Tampere Hall. In the Tampere Courtyard by Marriott hotel, there will be 11 aboveground floors and 229 hotel rooms.
Other notable conference venues are Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, which was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and can host conferences, concerts and exhibitions, as well as smaller meetings, concerts and light entertainment, and Sibelius Hall in Lahti. This wooden concert and congress centre was built on the Vesijärvi waterfront in spring 2000 and its Main Hall can provide an atmospheric meeting and conference facility for up to 1,100 people.
There are also many hotels across the country with ample conference and meetings facilities should you be looking for a more intimate space: Sokos Hotel Presidentti in Helsinki has 14 conference rooms and a banquet restaurant while its sister hotel Break Sokos Hotel Flamingo, in Vantaa, currently constructing a new glass-walled events space in a former car dealership which will open this autumn.
WHERE TO STAY
Finland is well-served for hotels with all its major cities boasting a wealth of accommodation alongside its conference facilities.
Last year Helsinki added an extra 1,000 hotel bedrooms to its portfolio and that trend is set to continue with the opening of Kämp Collection Hotels' St George Hotel this year.
For obvious reasons, many business events are held in Finland's capital city Helsinki and neighbouring Espoo, so narrowing a search to hotels in these areas is recommended if this is the case for your next event. Although, university cities like Tampere, Turku, Jyväskylä, Oulu, Vaasa, Kuopio and Rovaniemi are also popular destinations for conferences.
The Messukeskus Helsinki Expo & Convention Centre's on-site hotel is the 244-bedroom Holiday Inn, which is currently undergoing a revamp with the official re-opening due at the beginning of 2019.
The aforementioned hotel chain Sokos has 48 hotels across Finland and caters for all budgets and requirements under its Solo, Break and Original brands.
As Finland Convention Bureau's Hilden points out, the time of year of your event may well determine where you stay.
"During winter months, Lapland is an extremely wanted destination for incentives and other events. Summer months attract business events groups to archipelago and Lakeland, the largest lake district in Europe," she says.
The Finns' close affinity with nature extends to its restaurants, with chefs raiding the nation's well-stocked natural larder to create simple yet stunning dishes.
Typical Finnish ingredients include lingonberries, cloudberries and sea buckthorns, cep and chanterelle mushrooms and fresh fish such as zander and Baltic herring.
You'll find most of these ingredients on the menu at many popular Helsinki haunts such as Chapter, the 24-cover fine-dining restaurant in the Tori Quarters where you'll need to book ahead and leave enough time to sample its 10-course set menu. For something less formal, head to Restaurant Jord, a relaxed organic restaurant located in the city's Kortteli food hall.
Many other cuisines are available to sample in the city also, from Italian and American to Japanese and Russian.
The same goes in Finland's other cities and resorts, but if you have the time, consider sourcing the ingredients yourself, says Hilden.
"Fishing and ice fishing as well as mushroom and berry picking are fun outdoor activities, and cooking and eating the food in the wild make for an unforgettable tasting experience," she says. "Finns scour their vast forests for these delicious treasures along with tasty mushrooms and fresh wild herbs."
According to Hilden, Finland has more than 180,000 lakes and 'endless forests'. The coastline is 1,100km long, with countless beautiful islands and coastal indentations, offering 'one of the most extensive and unspoiled natural environments in Europe'.
While Finland's natural habitat is one that can be simply admired, it can also provide fantastic backdrops to incentive packages.
"In Finland you can truly satisfy the explorer within you," says Hilden. "Step ashore on your own island or enter an untouched winter wonderland. Enjoy both action-packed thrills and soothing silence in one of the purest natural settings in the world. Finland has a superb range of activities in all four seasons from White Night Magic until Northern Lights wonders will fulfill your dreams."
Hilden suggests Arctic Incentives' Hunt for the Aurora Borealis trip for adventurous types. The trip entails riding snowmobiles in Lapland with the chance of catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
"The thrill of witnessing the Aurora Borealis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many," she says. "The Northern Lights dancing up above while you are driving a snowmobile threw a snowy landscape is such a powerful and unique natural phenomenon. An Arctic Snowmobile challenge could also include ice fishing, husky driving, snowshoe walking, reindeer safari, Kota building and outdoor snack by the campfire."
Planning to visit between May and September? Consider midnight sailing in Helsinki's archipelago. Finland's white summer nights open up many opportunities to hold activities, usually kept to daylight hours, in the evening.
Hilden suggests starting with a dinner on the sea fortress island Suomenlinna before setting off on a midnight cruise on one of Finland's famous old traditional wooden sailing boats.
As it looks to the future, Finland, which celebrated its 100th year of independence in 2017, has continuing confidence in its meetings market, thanks to ongoing investment.
"Finland’s centenary and numerous recent accolades in tourism have brought along considerable attention. In fact, Finland is a hot destination right now, as the country’s tourism is growing the fastest in Scandinavia. Overnight stays from abroad grew a stunning 15% in early 2017," boasts Hilden.
The nation expects a 'record-breaking' winter season at Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland and investments are being made to respond to that demand. Almost 1,200 more beds will be made available for the forthcoming winter season with investments made to the tune of 30 MEUR.
"Through investments Finland can grow its congress industry, as our robust science communities and dependable organisers form a solid platform," says Hilden. "The great thing is, the demand is there. Year 2018 is expected to be an excellent year for both business and leisure travel alike. We presume some new records will be broken."
DID YOU KNOW?
The Finns consume the highest amount of coffee and milk in the world. The average Finn consumes 12kg of coffee and 130 litres of milk per year.
Finland celebrates a National Day of Failure. The event is marked on 13th October every year and is used to encourage people to cast off their inhibitions and lose their fear of messing up.
There are 27 airports in Finland, five of which have international links. The majority of international flights operate from Helsinki-Vantaa airport which receives 180 international flights per day.
Almost all of Finland’s coastal and lakeside towns run boat services, as well as organised sightseeing and charter cruises.
Finland has an extensive rail network linking Helsinki to many other cities and areas. Trains offer sleeping cars and car carriers. There is also a train between Finland and neighbouring Russia.