Finland is emerging as a surprising destination for the world’s largest travel market. Led by a China-smart strategy and the growing number of direct flights between major Chinese cities and Helsinki, the capital city saw 220,000 overnight stays in 2018, double the number from 2013.
Helsinki’s tourism office is at the center of this increase in Chinese visitation. It has long run a Chinese-language website, but deepened its connectivity this summer with the launch of MyHelsinki, a WeChat Mini Program designed to be a digital guide giving Chinese travelers local experiences. The first wave of Chinese travelers to Europe may have opted for the comfort of tours, but today 65 percent of these tourists visit European cities independently with a 2017 McKinsey Survey finding 61 percent of respondents looking for more local experiences.
MyHelsinki is a smart response this new reality. It functions like an app within the WeChat ecosystem and gives personal recommendations, helps with travel planning, and facilitates payment. “Our focus was on the entire city as an experience,” says Tia Hallanoro, Director of Brand Communications & Digital Development for Helsinki Marketing, “It’s like having a personal guide in a digital format.”
Jointly developed by Tencent, design consultancy Idean, the City of Helsinki, and local startup Whim, the Mini Program uses Helsinki’s open API, meaning it pulls information from multiple local sources. Users can read recommendations about key attractions and upcoming events, browse Panoramic Helsinki 360-photos, translate questions into Finnish, and even get emergency help.
MyHelsinki is the first Mini Program of its kind on the international tourism circuit, but Hallanoro believes demand for the localization is indicative of a growing trend, “the importance of genuine local recommendations in city marketing will continue to grow. MyHelsinki Open API represents a unique opportunity to share Helsinki’s destination information and recommendations through as many channels as possible.”
Providing authentic local information is only one aspect of MyHelsinki — payment is also key. Chinese visitors can pay for train and bus fares, taxis, restaurant meals, and tickets to top attractions using WeChat Pay (and in RMB).
“The strategic goal of Helsinki is to become the pioneer digitalized city in the future,” said the Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, “we want to become the safest and most functional tourism destination offering the best experience for tourists.” MyHelsinki is certainly a strong step in the right direction.