After a notable absence last year, tourists from western Europe and the Nordic countries, while not in huge numbers, will be the predominant group staying in Tallinn over the New Year's break, Killu Maidla, CEO of the Estonian Hotels and Restaurant Association (EHRL) told ERR in an interview, which follows in its entirety.
New Year's Eve is coming soon, when traditionally we expect visitors from abroad coming to Tallinn or to Estonia in general to see in the new year. What is our situation this year?
This year is as things have been for the past year. There will not be large hordes of tourists on the move, but there will be some, which is a cause for rejoicing.
According to the information I have, there is not a single hotel that is completely sold out for New Year's Eve this year. There are still rooms and places available in all hotels, some of them with complete New Year's programs, or at least dinners.
The government made the decision that on New Year's Eve, entertainment venues could be open longer; in fact, the decision came relatively recently. Did this in any way affect the arrival of tourists, or was it too late for their plans?
So far as tourist plans go, it was rather late. Perhaps the Finnish market has been affected a bit in this regard; we are seeing a slight recovery in the Finnish market. This may be due to the fact that greater restrictions have recently been imposed there. The bolder and the vaccinated will come to Estonia, where life is a little more open, especially at the turn of the year.
But for tourists in general, this decision was certainly overdue, as it was for locals as well, as it is very difficult to organize major events at such short notice. However, as can be seen, it was the companies that took the risk and set up their events in advance and made their preparations. Due to this, once the decision was made to celebrate longer at the turn of the year had been made, sales picked up somewhat.
What is the comparison with last year, when Covid was already here, and the previous year, before the pandemic?
It is not comparable to the year before last (i.e. the turn of 2019/2020 – ed.), when there was no coronavirus. That year was in fact a record one for tourism in Estonia. We had more foreign visitors than ever before in our history.
Compared with last year, however, this year is somewhat better. The willingness that vaccinated people have in interacting with other people has certainly helped a lot.
You have already said that there are some people coming from Finland due to other restrictions there. Traditionally, we have relied on tourists from Russia. What is their situation and how will they get to Estonia?
It is very difficult for Russian people to come to Estonia right now. To come as a tourist or for leisure, you need to come by plane. We do not have any direct flights at present. In order to cross the border or leave Russia, you need to be traveling for work or study, or for medical treatment. These are restrictions imposed by the Russian Federation itself. In this sense, it is quite difficult for Russians to travel. But despite that, we still see more Russian people in the street than we did a year ago.
And elsewhere - from Central Europe?
Whereas in the past Russian and Finnish tourists have provided the main tone among foreigners, the trend at the end of the year is that they are being subsumed into tourists from other nations from Western Europe, Scandinavia and some surprising countries.
There are certainly people who have received their vaccine doses and would venture to travel. And they are from very different countries.
What about prices? I heard once such an aphorism that when the Finns come back to us, if only for a while, it is because they see that our prices have reached the same level as theirs had.
Inevitably, inflation, as well as the input prices of all raw materials, such as energy prices, must be reflected in the ultimate sale price This cost cannot be borne by any company that has seen the changes here this year.
I would not dare say today that our prices are exactly the same as in Finland. Prices are still driven by supply and demand. If demand is higher, businesses will also be able to raise prices a little, and I think that this is very justified today.
However, if we don't see a big increase in demand at the turn of the year, will prices probably not rise as much?
Just yesterday I also looked at various sales channels to see what prices hotels are selling at the turn of the year, and the rates are very reasonable. There are completely different price levels in evidence. For those hotels that are already quietly filling up, the prices will be higher, while for those who can sell even more cheaply, the prices will be cheaper there. In any case, it is worth looking at the different options out there.
Editor: Andrew Whyte