Ferry-borne tourism in Estonia's smaller islands growing

Kihnu Virve, one of Estonia's recently introduced new ferries.
Kihnu Virve, one of Estonia's recently introduced new ferries. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Estonia's smaller islands are seeing a rise in tourist visitors year-on-year, according to a report on ETV current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" Monday night. This increase is matched by a rise in the use of car ferries to visit islands such as Kihnu and Vormsi, with visitors bringing their own cars.

Estonia's two largest islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, dwarf the remainder in land area, and attract large numbers of tourists, including those from overseas, every year. As reported on ERR News, a new ferry is likely to be ordered and added to the existing connections. The two islands are also linked to the mainland by air.

However, Vormsi and Kihnu – the latter less than one percent the land area of Saaremaa, with a population of less than 500 – have seen most growth from the smaller islands, with visits to Ruhnu, slightly bigger than Kihnu but considerably more remote, lying as it does closer to the Latvian mainland, than the Estonian, also increasing.

In total, more than 200,000 passengers traveled between the mainland and the smaller islands in 2019.

Andres Laasma, manager of Kihnu Veetee carrier, told "Aktuaalne kaamera" that 2019 had been a success for the company, with many records were broken both in passenger and vehicle transport, principally from the domestic market rather than foreign tourism.  Vormsi also enjoyed a record-breaking year.

"The biggest increase in passenger traffic was on the Kihnu Island-related shipping routes, where we served about 78,000 people. Second is definitely the Vormsi route, where passenger growth was nearly three percent. As for vehicles, the growth was even higher - six and seven percent, respectively. We can then see that the interest of Estonian people in visiting the islands continues to be very high," said Laasma.

"Of course, both Kihnu and Vormsi island communities have done a great job of promoting their entire environment so that the people want to spend their quality time there. And the main growth has come from the tourist movement to the island," he added.

Ferry ticket fares are set by local government rather than the carrier itself, though according to Laasma this may change for future procurements.

In any case, larger and more powerful ships as well as improved port facilities are behind the growth in the number of vehicles. 

"The larger and more capable vessels and ports are, the more comfortable it is to travel to an island with your car, and people will definitely make use of this."

This year, new procurements will be announced on the Kihnu, Vormsi and Sõru-Triigi (between Hiiumaa and Saaremaa) routes.

So far as the western archipelago goes, Kihnu Veetee operates on the Sviby (Vormsi)-Rohuküla, Sõru-Triigi, Kihnu-Pärnu, Kihnu-Munalaid , Manilaid (on Manija island)-Munalaid , Ringsu (Ruhnu)-Munalaid, Ringsu-Pärnu, and Ringsu-Roomassaare routes.

The company also runs boats between Laaksaare on the shores of Lake Peipsi, and Piiri island, and from Tallinn harbor to Aegna.

The original "Aktuaalne kaamera" segment (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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