The Nordic Way

My blog stats show that a fair number of people stumble upon these pages as a result of looking for tourist information about Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Usually they click away quickly, understandably untempted by my observations of unheard-of politicos and the minutiae of why the number 10 tram is so much better than the rest (like jazz, if you’ve got to ask, you’ll never understand).

But for once I can provide cyberspace’s passers-by with cause to stop and stare with news that Estonia – sorry, I mean Eeeee-stonia – has revamped its successful tourism portal www.visitestonia.com.

As you would expect from a land where even invertebrates demand a broadband internet connection, it’s impressively whizzy, informative and even contains links to blogs about the Nordic/Baltic duostate to show just how down with the kids it is.

Joking aside, Estonia remains a million versts ahead of Latvia and particularly Lithuania in its tourist promotion material. A few years ago they worked out what they wanted to say about the country, avoided the temptation of claiming to be all things to all people and, most importantly, stuck with the same message, ramming home relentlessly “E-stonia”, “We had something to do with Skype” and “We are Nordic, not Slavic or even very Baltic.”

For those of us who write about Estonia on a daily basis, the message can seem monotonous and even comical (see above – though of course I am repeating the message again too), but to the 99 per cent of the world’s population who only stumble across the word “Estonia” occasionally, it’s proven to work.

In what I think was the most brilliant example of Estonian tourist marketing, the national Enterprise agency produced a comprehensive style guide for the country. This laid out everything from the fonts to be used to an approved picture library of images available to the tourism industry which was big on animals in forests and smiling blonde folk looking decidedly apres-ski Scandinavian.

Maybe it was propaganda of a sort (aka advertising) but it also meant Estonia’s hotels, guesthouses, campsites and attractions had access to professional-standard materials and resulted in an enhanced, unified national image.

As someone with borderline Luddite tendencies I sometimes find all this digital stuff a bit depressing – until I remember that it’s being done in order to achieve the decidedly analogue purpose of getting you to physically go to Estonia.

The new website marks phase two of Estonia’s attempt to get its message across, and it will be interesting to see if it over-reaches itself.

The site also includes a section titled “Estonia for people like you – gay, lesbian and transgendered” which would be highly unlikely in Latvia and totally impossible in Lithuania.

“Tallinn is the gay capital of Estonia and Sauna street in the Old Town has earned a ‘gay street’ title amongst the locals,” the website says. And you just have to applaud the honesty of Visit Estonia when it describes Estonia as “fairly open-minded” and “quite tolerant.”

This triumph of marketing isn’t just a triumph of marketing, either. I took my holidays in Estonia this year. I told some friends what a nice time I had. They went to Estonia, too. They came back and told me what a nice time they had. They told some other people too – who then went to Estonia.

The few Rigans who aren’t friends of friends might also be seduced to visit our definitely different northern neighbours courtesy of the “Visit Estonia” posters at every other bus stop or the brightly-liveried buses rumbling across the Akmens bridge every 10 minutes.

Visit Estonia – it’s much nicer than staring at a computer screen all day, though one can occasionally confuse the two.

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