We have often heard that Finland functions as the world’s bridge between the “East” and the “West”. Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Katja Siberg. Katja is responsible for brand and marketing communications at Finavia, operator of Helsinki Airport.
In this fun interview, Katja shares with us a brief history of Helsinki Airport, Finnish hospitality and service, “Finnish-ness” and her wish for Finland 100.
Enjoy the interview! ♡
TH: Hello Katja! Thank you for accepting our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself and Finavia?
Katja: Sure. I am a responsible about marketing for the whole Finavia and commercial services at our network airports. I have been working within the travel industry in marketing and business development for the most of my whole career. It´s a really interesting industry.
Finavia provides airport and air navigation services to facilitate smooth air traffic. We maintain and develop our network of 22 airports and Finland’s air navigation system. In addition, we security check passengers and luggage, keep the runways in working condition and ensure safe take offs and landings.
Our mission is to create prerequisites for competitiveness, mobility and international reach of Finnish society by providing our customers with safe, high quality and cost effective air traffic services. Our customers include airlines, other operators in the aviation sector and passengers.
Over 20 million passengers fly via our 22 airports yearly.
TH: Can you briefly tell us the history of Helsinki Airport?
Katja: Helsinki Airport was opened in July 1952 to coincide with the Olympic Games in Helsinki. Initially, the airport had an air navigation services building, one runway, an apron area and a shed for passengers.
The second runway opened a few years later in 1956. The first actual passenger terminal was built in 1969 and the extension, the international section, was finished in 1983. The second terminal was built in 1993. After that, the terminals have been expanded multiple times.
Today, Helsinki Airport is the leading transit airport in Northern Europe for long-haul traffic and it connects Europe and Asia with the shortest route. Thanks to transit travel, Helsinki Airport provides exceptionally comprehensive flight connections, given the population of Finland.
In 2015 Helsinki Airport served approximately 16.5 million passengers. There are flight to 17 destinations in Asia and overall to 135 destinations worldwide.
At the moment Helsinki Airport is developing again. The airport expansion will make it possible to serve 20 million passengers in 2020. The airport’s current terminal building will be extended by 45 %, and all services will become easily accessible under one roof. Distances to and from services as well as transfer times will remain short.
The development also entails increasing the airport’s eco-efficiency, doubling the number of wide-body aircraft bridges, increasing baggage handling capacity and improving airport services to better cater to passengers’ varying needs.
TH: Can you tell us more about the impressive Match Made in HEL- project headed by Finavia last year? Why and how did Finavia come up with this idea?
Katja: The Match Made in HEL campaign was a joint campaign by Finavia, the operator of Helsinki Airport, and Finnair, the airline specializing in Asia Europe connections. Hence, the campaign aimed to raise awareness of Helsinki Airport and Finnair as the best partners for smooth and fast air connections between Asia and Europe.
The campaign has been organized two times: in October 2014 we invited a bunch of top international skaters to skate at Helsinki Airport, and last May we organized a fashion show on a real runway at the airport.
The fashion show organised last May initiated from the idea that air travel has long played a key role in setting the pace of fashion trends across the world. A fashion show was a perfect way to bring Europe and Asia together in a new and exciting way.
By bringing seven inspiring designers to Helsinki Airport, we wanted to celebrate the connections between Europe and Asia, and showcase the work of some of the hottest designers from these two continents.
TH: It seems that it is in Finnish culture that Finns don’t smile unless there is a good reason to.
For instance, the “naama peruslukemilla” of Finnish people are sometimes “frowny”, “curt” and might come across as intimidating. Some Finns even have what we colloquially term the “resting bitch face”.
What do you think about Finnish service? How does Finavia deal with this cultural difference, such that tourists (especially Asians) don’t get the false impression that Finns are cold or uncaring service people?
Katja: Serving passengers is at the heart of our strategy at Finavia.
We are devoted to provide passengers with friendly and context-sensitive customer service. The amount of international passengers at Helsinki Airport is more than 50 %, and for example Chinese are the fourth biggest foreign nationality at Helsinki Airport.
Our customer service personnel and other employees have received training on cultural differences and especially on Chinese culture, in order to offer all passengers a smooth and enjoyable experience at the airport.
We have also hired Chinese-speaking customer service personnel at Helsinki Airport so Chinese passengers can get help in their own language.
Even though Finns might tend to e.g. smile less when walking down the streets than people in some other cultures do, we do value good and friendly customer service.
I think the quality of customer service has improved significantly in Finland overall during recent years.
TH: Can you tell us the top 3 things/ traits you regard as “Finnish”, and why?
Katja: One of the things Finland is probably best known for is sauna – and for a good reason. We have over three million saunas, which is more than one sauna for every other citizen. Sauna offers us a total relaxation and it is deeply rooted in the Finnish culture.
Secondly, Finns drink a lot of coffee. We consume more coffee per person than does any other nation in the world. Even at Helsinki Airport, over two million cups of coffee are served a year.
Another thing that characterises us Finns is that we get almost a bit crazy when spring and summer come after the cold winter.
On April 30 and May 1, we have maybe the biggest celebration of the year, May Day. It combines Labour Day and the start of spring.
During the summer, all sorts of fun outside events are organised all over Finland – one example is the Wife Carrying Championships.
TH: What is the number one misconception foreigners tend to have about Finland that you feel that is far from the truth?
Katja: Maybe that people tend to think Finland is dark and cold all year round and people live mainly in the countryside.
It is true that we still have quite a lot of wild nature, but most people live in urban areas. For example, our capital Helsinki is a continuously growing, modern, and vivid city.
Helsinki has a really good restaurant scene and a cool design district, and you can for example go to sauna and swim in a seaside swimming pool right in the city centre.
During the summer it is very bright in Finland, and around midsummer the sun does not set at all in Lapland!
And another thing would be that people think we have polar bears in Finland. We don’t.
TH: Can you share with us some of the most memorable experiences you or your colleagues have had while working at Finavia, especially when dealing with foreign visitors?
Katja: We have a great people working at Finavia.
Therefore, the most memorable experiences are those when we work as a team to provide a smooth customer experience to our passengers as well as reaching a set goal as a team.
TH: What do you think is the role of Finland in the world today?
Katja: In Finland, we have highly educated people and a lot of technological know-how. Entrepreneurial mindset is on the rise and Finland has a strong startup scene.
So I think Finland is and will be a strong player especially in the digitalisation field.
In addition, our geographical location enables excellent connections to Asia, which can be exploited for both business and travel.
Our clean nature and somewhat mystical image makes Finland an attractive destination for people travelling from all over the world.
TH: Some of my friends used to comment on the “no-stopover” rule at Helsinki Airport.
For example, if they want to stopover in Helsinki, they have to pay extra. Icelandic Air in contrast has up to 7 days worth of free stopover, with no extra cost. What do you think about this?
Katja: Actually we are very much encouraging people to do a stopover in our beautiful Finland when travelling via Helsinki.
Finnair now offers stopovers in Finland from 5 hours up to 5 days without additional charge.
In addition, the organisation Visit Finland has a StopOver Finland program which aims to increase stopover travel in Helsinki and rest of Finland by providing special stopover packages.
TH: What is your biggest wish for Helsinki Airport/ Finavia?
Katja: We are working hard on continuously enhancing our customer experience and therefore, I hope that every passenger has such a good experience at Helsinki Airport that they want to travel again through Helsinki.
I also hope that together with other players we are able to promote Stopover product to get more people to experience the wonders of Finland.
TH: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 Finland’s 100 years of independence?
Katja: I hope we all appreciate the beauty and nature of our country.
We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Katja Siberg, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Finavia. The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photograph courtesy of Katja; Other photographs from Unsplash.