In December 2017 the Destination SMEs project partners travelled to North Karelia, Finland, to learn about the region’s practices related to destination management.
During the three-day study visit organized by the Regional Council of North Karelia, partners visited different locations in North Karelia where they were introduced to tourism policies and organisations involved in tourism development in the region. The programme included also presentations of projects and networks that have improved the competitiveness of SMEs in the tourism sector.
The first day of the study visit was spent in the Koli National Park, which is one of the best-known national parks in Finland boasting a variety of hiking trails and a ski resort. After a Steering Group meeting, the project partners had a Joint Dissemination Workshop with local stakeholders. This session included an introduction to tourism in the region and a presentation of the regional destination marketing organization, Karelia Expert Tourist Service, and its subsidiary company VisitKarelia Sales Ltd. In addition to this, a representative from the national tourism organization, Visit Finland, described their tasks and provided an overview of the FinRelax growth programme promoting slow travel. Partners also learned about the cooperation between Visit Finland and the Finnish Lakeland region which includes North Karelia. 
During the day the group had an opportunity to meet and discuss with local tourism SMEs (Ilovoltti, Koli Activ and Kolin Keidas) that operate in the Koli National Park area. All of them are members of Koli Tourism Association which is a network of the companies, organisations and private individuals interested in the development of tourism in the area.
The following day the group visited SMEs and other places of interest in the town of Nurmes and its vicinity. The focus was on different cooperation models and projects implemented in the area. Partners had a chance to hear about regional network of restaurants and companies in travel, food and accommodation industries, namely Karelia á la Carte, and met with the owners of rural guesthouses that have formed a network offering joint tourism products and guesthouse to guesthouse tours. In addition, the role of North Karelian Cooperative Society in destination development and restoration of Bomba resort in Nurmes was presented and examples of EU projects (Rural Finland and Growth Programme of Travel Business 2015-2017) that have influenced tourism development were given.
In the last day of the visit, partners visited Kontiolahti Biathlon Stadium where they heard about events organized in the region and their impact on tourism. A special attention was paid to support services provided by the city of Joensuu to event organisers and a new ERDF project that aims to improve cooperation between events and local SMEs in the region, thus increasing event-related business opportunities. The group also visited the Arts and Crafts quarter in Joensuu which has turned into a popular tourism and culture center with the support of public authorities.
At the end of the study visit, partners held a Technical Meeting at which they evaluated and discussed the practices presented to them during the week.

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Photo by Jarno Artika