How Helsinki airport bets on Asia
How to turn a relatively small airport serving one of Europe's most peripheral markets into a great inter-continental hub?
Helsinki airport and its managing company, Finavia, may have the answer.
Finavia has accompanied Finnair in its effort to make of Helsinki Europe's Asian gateway. Up to 17 Asian destinations are currently covered nonstop from Helsinki. The Finnish capital is 3rd in Europe number of flights to Japan (after Paris and Frankfurt) and 5th when it comes to flights to China.
It helps that Helsinki's location, right on the Great Circle Route to Asia, makes it possible to operate return fligths to East Asia within a 24-hour window.
But this, in itself, is not the only reason for Helsinki's emergence among the European long-haul hubs.
Helsinki has some really impressive stats that speak lots about operational excellency, for example, despite the crudeness of the Finnish Winter, last time the airport had to close because of snow was in 2003 (for 30 minutes!). It is also a leader in Europe when it comes to the so called "green landings", or , technically speaking landings using Continuous Descent Approach (CDA), a way for aircraft to burn less fuel as they come in to land.
Low airport charges may be an ever bigger pull factor, though, as Helsinki boasts some of the lowest airline fees in Europe. This is part of a deliberate strategy on the side of Finavia. The airport operator compensates these low prices through commercial activities at the airport.
So far the strategy seems to be working as passenger numbers are up (Finavia aims to increase Helsinki airport passenger numbers from 16 million in 2015 to 20 million in 2020) and, with them, revenue (Finavia had a €40M profit last year).
Some studies suggest that transit airport is a factor in itinerary choice for up to a 1/3 of travelers, whenever there is a stopover involved. Finavia is taking this figure very seriously, as it engages in B2C marketing campaigns to communicate the advantages of a Helsinki stopover directly to would be travelers.
In fact, it has plenty to boast about: guaranteed 40 minute transfer time, a human-scale single-building terminal that is walkable from end to end, sleeping pods and fast unlimited wifi (yes, I tested it during a recent visit!)
But there are also two very specific areas where Finavia is active that merit a special mention, one is its marketing to Asian travelers, where its activities complement and reinforce those of Helsinki-based Finnair.
This has its translation in the airport's signage and announcements, that often include messaging in Chinese. Small details like many of the airport shops accepting Chinese payment system AliPay and quite a few members of the staff trained in East Asian languages.
In fact, Finavia has an ongoing partnership with Capital Airport Holding, the Chinese company operating Beijing International Airport and 29 other airports in China, that has resulted in a staff exchange programme.
Finavia is also quite active in the technology sphere, it has sponsored hackatons that resulted in some innovative ideas for air travelers. It has also launched a pretty good mobile app (also tested during a recent trip!), with quite a strong focus on ecommerce.
And it also stands out among European airports in its proactive use of social media, with a special mention to Helsinki's airport Instagram account - but, just thinking, it helps with photo opportunities when the airports in the network you manage are literally embedded in some of the most pristine natural environments in Europe!