Small guesthouses that are located in rural areas of North Karelia have formed a network to improve their competitiveness.
Rural SMEs face a many challenges that they need to overcome in order to succeed. For example, long distances and lack of good transportation connections may make them less competitive and attracting customers more challenging. In rural areas, networking with other service providers may be crucial to success.
In North Karelia, four guesthouses have cooperated for over 20 years in order to bring the Karelian culture and traditions known to travellers. Through cooperation they have improved their competitiveness and accessed bigger customer markets. The guesthouses collaborate on marketing, product design and trail maintenance.
They have developed a Guesthouse to Guesthouse product family that includes various tours in all seasons with activities close to nature. These tours take travellers from one guesthouse to another. The distances between the inns are travelled by bike, canoe or cross-country skis. At the guesthouses guests can enjoy local food prepared by the innkeepers and take part in activities, such as herbal treatment workshops, yoga lessons and Karelian pie cooking classes. One of their star products is Silent Moments at Karelian Guesthouses that makes good use of silence in the countryside and offers relaxation for both body and mind.
The SMEs involved in the cooperation have found a unique way to combine local culture, food and nature in their products. The tours are nature-friendly and sustainable.
The cooperation is based on trust, same values and vision.
Majatalo Pihlajapuu, Puukarin Pysäkki, Laitalan Lomat & Männikkölän Pirtti have cooperated for 20 years. Karelia Cottages joined the network in 2016. No financial costs for setting up the network. Cooperation requires time. The group has taken part in product development projects.
Evidence of success
The guesthouses have been awarded for their innovative collaboration model. Their ”From guesthouse to guesthouse” tour was chosen as the best food tourism product in Finland in 2015. Other recognitions: Silent moments at Guesthouses as one of Visit Finland’s Finrelax star products in 2016, guesthouse tours nominated as the best Nordic food tourism destination in 2017 (Embla).
The guesthouses' winter tours are often fully booked. The network has expanded and includes now five guesthouses.
The network’s winter tours have been very popular. It has been more challenging to attract visitors for summer tours. To change this, the group keeps on developing new innovative products: e.g. “Just hanging out! - A night of forest bathing” in which guests spend a night in hammocks in nature.
Potential for learning or transfer
This good practice demonstrates how the creation of a business network can change the way business is conducted and improve the profitability of member SMEs. These guesthouses are a good example of SMEs that have tapped into their remoteness, natural resources and surroundings. They have created unique products that make good use of local characteristics and culture.
This practice could be a source of inspiration for other SMEs that operate in similar rural areas within the tourism sector.
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