Bernie Baldwin

“Location, location, location!” is the mantra for most property developers around the world. The phrase might well apply to Lappeenranta Airport, too, given its position east of Helsinki and close to the Finland–Russia border.

“Around 50% of our passengers come from Russia,” explains Eija Joro, the airport’s CEO, “so in addition to marketing ourselves as Lappeenranta’s airport and the gateway to Finland’s lakeland, we promote the airport as St Petersburg West.” When the catchment area including St Petersburg covers 8 million people and there are around 2 million border crossings each year, it’s easy to see why.

“It’s only two hours from St Petersburg to our airport, making it slightly nearer than Helsinki,” Joro adds. “And Russian people like to come across the border and acquire a Schengen visa from Finland, enabling them to travel to all the countries covered by the Schengen agreement. They also like to shop on the Finnish side of the border.”

In the opposite direction, travellers flying into Lappeenranta can visit St Petersburg – perhaps via a cruise through the Saimaa Canal – and stay in the city for 72 hours visa-free.

As for the attraction of the lakeland, there are more than 70,000 summer cottages in the region and to help reach them, there are five car rental companies based at Lappeenranta Airport. “The Finnish people love to come to the region themselves to slow down and re-connect with nature. There are winter leisure activities such as skiing and skating or summer activities of swimming, boating and more,” Joro says. “Visit Finland has therefore chosen to promote the lake district more, believing that it will become the ‘next Lapland’.”

Lappeenranta city is located only 2 km from the airport and has a strong business community specialising in green technologies. “We have a renowned university in this field plus a number of emerging companies attracting  business travellers,” confirms Mirka Kristiina Rahman, head of marketing, tourism and customer service at the City of Lappeenranta.

Helped by the airport’s strategy to have 20% lower average costs than competitors, Ryanair arrived at the airport in 2018 and almost filled its flights. It has therefore tripled its capacity at Lappeenranta in 2019, operating flights to destinations such as Athens, Thessaloniki, Milan Bergamo and Berlin Schoenefeld. Budapest will be added in October.

Charter operations at the airport are mainly outbound at present, taking travellers to the ever-popular sun destinations. Clearly with its Lakeland and St Petersburg West marketing messages, Lappeenranta aims to increase charter services in the opposite direction.