Sport tourism in South Karelia: presentation of the region and its possibilities

Vector- Sport CBC 2014-2020 project launched the series of the sport tourism in South -East Finland presentation webinars.   The purpose of these online events was to initiate the cross- border sport tourism cluster creation between South -East Finland and St. Petersburg Russia, present the existing sport tourism products of South -East Finland to Russian professional tourism business society, provide new opportunities for local Finnish entrepreneurs to access new market, promote their work and develop new cooperation networks.

The first webinar was held on November 19, 2020 with the presentation of the peculiarities of South Karelia from various sport tourism perspectives that would be attractive for active tourists, nature lovers, professional and amateur sport teams, and other groups and individual tourists from Russia. The context of the discussion was cross- border cooperation possibilities between South Karelia and Saint -Petersburg  and the  creation of a  business cluster  that could unite various stakeholders to work together for the creation of new sport tourism products and services,  build joint brand and marketing strategy.

The speakers of the webinar represented the local sport and tourism stakeholders who gave an overview  on the available products and services on wellness, active adventure tourism, geo tourism, sport and recreational events, available infrastructure and cross- border cooperation possibilities.

Imatra Basecamp introduced the sports cluster of the Ukonniemi area with various possibilities for doing sports and active recreational initiatives. The developed and high – level sports infrastructure allows professional and amateurs sports teams, as well as individual athletes to arrange preparation camps, participate in local and international sports events.  The key advantage of this sports tourism destination is an excellent logistics. Thus, it is easy to get to Imatra from Russia via bus or train. The proximity to the accommodation venues provides comfortable solutions for planning the sport events of any complexity.

Imatra Kylpyla Spa presented the accommodation opportunities for sports groups that could fit the needs of the most demanding clients. Comfortable accommodation, balanced menu, excellent spa services, and sports infrastructure of the hotel would allow to organize high- level sports camps and events. Moreover, the walkable proximity to the Ukonniemi sports cluster is an evident advantage of this accommodation venue.

Saimaa Geopark described the peculiarities of geo tourism being developed in the region. This tourism direction brings significant contribution to the sustainable development of tourism, while at the same time enhances the development of local tourism products and services, boosts the cooperation between entrepreneurs. A Geopark is a uniform area with geological value that has geological landscapes and sites of national and international significance.  The sites in the area may also be archaeologically, ecologically, historically, or culturally important.

The key goal of Geoparks is to develop the region and the local economy through sustainable tourism. Geoparks enhance the knowledge and appreciation of the local region among the residents by highlighting the geological importance of the area and preserve the environmental heritage for the next generations.

The unique nature of South Karelia gives a raise to various eco sport tourism activities. Therefore, there are numerous initiatives on biking, canoeing, hiking, and other nature activities. South Karelia can be naturally called the most attractive destination for biking. Extensive biking routes are available for the tourists.

E-K Virkistysaluesäätiö presented the biking tourism and available routes, tours, events, and other related services in the region. The region routes are systemized and available in online system called ekarjala-retkeily.fi. There, the users can choose any thematic bike route they are motivated to conquer, get information about other available services.  Besides the tours, there are also bike rent services available. Mass bike events such as Imatra MTB, Saimaa cycle tour allow challenging the tourists in real competitions.

EU Corporate Events OY as an international sports tourism operator in Imatra described the various sports tourism products available in Finland for local and international customers.  The company aims to bring professional and amateur sport teams, sport fans, nature lovers and active lifestyle tourists to travel to Finland and abroad. Its products and services provide complete and ready–made sports tourism solutions of high quality that correspond the needs of various customer groups.

Among key services of the company are sport camps, sport events, sport travel management, corporate events, sports consulting, sports academies management. The webinar on South Karelia presentation gave a good overview of the products and services available, identified the clear interest of local sports tourism stakeholders to work towards closer cooperation with Russian partners so to have more customers in this region.