Wild Taiga is an association comprising approx. 60 companies in the tourism sector and operating mainly in eastern Kainuu in the area of Suomussalmi and Kuhmo. Most companies operating under the Wild Taiga banner are small, personal artisan entrepreneurs who have collated their local traditions, culture, knowledge and products, to offer visitors the best, unique experiences.
The member companies are, in the main, family businesses. Younger generations are taught the skills of the trade to carry on the traditions and culture. As small business they are dependable on high level of tourist satisfaction with meaningful experiences. As locals they are very aware of the impact tourism can bring to their area and work hard to keep a good balance with the nature, their provider – in all the definition of sustainable tourism.
The association’s mission is to monitor the sector’s general and common interests related to professional activities, to promote co-operation between its members and improve the sector’s general operating prerequisites.
Entrepreneurs in the association represent a comprehensive range of the region’s tourism offering. Active in the association are hotels, entrepreneurs renting out cottages, restaurants as well as programme service companies. Common to all is utilization of the region’s attraction factors in tourism. The main attraction factors in the eastern Kainuu area are unspoilt nature and the richness of the fauna, the colourful history of the area from the Winter War and the culture enriched by the spirit of the Kalevala.
The financial resources for Wild Taiga’s joint marketing are based on the members’ joint marketing fees as well as the city of Kuhmo’s and municipality of Suomussalmi’s funding to the association.
MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Sari Rusanen (chairman): sari.rusanen(at)kuhmofestival.fi, tel. +358 8 652 0936
Ritva Huttunen (deputy chairperson): ritva.huttunen(at)kuutamokeikat.fi
Veikko Huovinen: veikko.huovinen(at)luukku.com
Jari Paasovaara: jari.paasovaara(at)loma-hossa.fi
Riina Nilsson-Määttä: sales(at)martinselkonen.fi
Tarleena Ylönen: office(at)hotellikalevala.fi
Petri Heikkinen: petri.heikkinen(at)vuokatinmaa.com
Sabrina Logeais: info(at)taigaspirit.com
WILD TAIGA ONLINE-PROJECT 2018-2021
Association implements Wild Taiga Online-project in 2018-2021. The Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (Kajaani UAS) was also involved in the implementation of the project, being in charge of the technical design of the VR (virtual reality) environment marketing materials, which were produced for Wild Taiga. As partner of the project, the VR laboratory of the Kajaani UAS provided its experience and knowledge necessary for the implementation of the project’s VR section.
Project budget was funded by Kuhmo Town, Suomussalmi Municipality, Regional Council of Kainuu, Kajaani UAS, Idän Taiga (Wild Taiga) association as well as ERDF (70%).
The key objectives of the project’s main actor lay in offering online reservation capabilities for Wild Taiga products (from at least 25 companies), introducing and testing the VR marketing materials (at least 10 demonstration videos), and participating in Visit Finland’s marketing initiatives for the Lakeland region (with an aim of 5% growth in international traffic to wildtaiga.fi, combined turnover of companies, and international accommodation days).
The co-partner’s objective was to construct a virtual environment tailored for the presentation of a variety of tourist destinations and activities as well as develop a new way to present them. One of the project objectives was to establish a VR software infrastructure through which different travel destinations could be presented using 360-degree video. The aim was to design and implement a VR infrastructure that would facilitate the fast and smooth launching of similar environments and simplify the addition of new videos. Another aim was to further develop 360-degree video production and editing methods to ensure the most efficient presentation of various tourist destinations. Another goal was to enhance the level of expertise and knowledge at Kajaani UAS regarding the production of 360-degree videos, with the ultimate aim of integrating the production of videos and related virtual environments into Kajaani UAS’s service offering.
The objectives of the project were pursued through the following measures: (1) Corporate training on the use of electronic reservation systems, (2) video shoots and presentations using the newly created virtual environment, (3) participation in Visit Finland’s Lakeland campaign (sales events, tour operator and media visits, electronic campaigns), (4) participation in the Kainuu Arctic Lakeland brand development and joint marketing measures, (5) production of marketing materials, (6) participation in tourism safety development, and (7) participation in the negotiations on air travel connections from Kajaani.
The project development goal was to have at least 25 Wild Taiga companies whose products could be booked electronically. Ultimately, this was achieved for twenty-eight (28) companies, exceeding the goal by three (3) enterprises.
Another development goal was to produce 360-degree presentation videos of at least 10 tourist destinations. Nearly 30 activities in 15 different locations were filmed, leading to the production of 16 presentation videos, thus exceeding the goal. In addition, a VR software infrastructure was created onto which the videos could be uploaded and integrated.
The third objective of the project was its involvement in the sales and marketing operations of Visit Finland’s Lakeland marketing campaign. While the participation goal was achieved during the first 18 months of the project, the implementation was necessarily reduced or discontinued in certain areas due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The performance target within this objective was a 5% annual increase in international overnight stays (registered and non-registered), the total turnover of companies, and the number of visitors to the Wild Taiga website. In the first year, the international overnight target was reached, with an increase of 11.35% (34,413), but in 2020 this had fallen to 12,924 overnight stays. The annual growth target for turnover was not met. The international traffic to the WildTaiga.fi website increased by 3.9% in the first year, and then again by 160% in early 2021. The numbers and trends in terms of non-registered overnight stays were investigated through a business survey, while overnight stays by registered persons were derived from the official statistics provided by Statistics Finland.
The Board of the Idän Taiga Association considers the project to have progressed according to the planned measures and to have achieved its objectives despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which immensely hampered the project’s operations. The project represents an important step in the continuing work of the Idän Taiga Association to support member companies’ digital capabilities and has resulted in a significant number of these companies’ products now being available for online booking. Due to the pandemic, tourism marketing underwent a complete change during the project period. The digital leap occurred primarily in terms of sales events as well as in the communication between the project management, the participating companies, and the Arctic Lakeland cooperation network. The Idän Taiga Association and Kajaani UAS were pioneers in the introduction of VR materials in Kainuu, and the Idän Taiga Association was the first to organise virtual exploration trips and introduce market automation.