Sport revives Estonia’s hotel industry

Rally Estonia. Credit: @world André Lavadinho

For Estonia's accommodation industry, the all-important summer season was shaping up to be another write-off. Bookings were down, beds were empty. Then came the athletes.

From sailing races to taekwondo championships, international title events hosted in the country have been bringing in tens of thousands of visitors from abroad, with participants, press and spectators filling rooms that would have otherwise been left vacant. Fortunately for the hotels, the number of such events reached a new high this year.

“Since our organisation started activity in 2008, we’ve been keeping records of international conferences and events held in Estonia on our website’s Conference Calendar. I don't remember any other year when we have had so many major international sporting title competitions taking place,” said Riine Tiigi, Marketing Manager of the Estonian Convention Bureau.

Though it's too early for hard statistics on overnight stays, the anecdotal feedback Tiigi has received from hotel partners is that the sports-related influx has played a tremendous role in filling rooms.

In July, for example, the European Athletics U20 and U23 championships brought 3,335 international guests to Tallinn at a time when hotel rooms were mostly unoccupied. Similar stories continued through August, with Ironman Tallinn attracting 2,900 participants, nearly half of them international, and the Offshore Racing Sailing World Championships and European Taekwondo U21 Championships pulling in a couple thousand more.

Sari Sopanen, CEO of one of Tallinn's major hotels, the Original Sokos Hotel Viru, spoke of the emotional boost that hosting the athletes has brought. “The positive feedback received from sports guests has given our working family new motivation in the current difficult situation. The cooperation [with event organisers] is very smooth, because the sports promoters here are very professional. We are very proud that such international events have taken place in Estonia and we are happy that we have been able to be a part of these events.”

The capital Tallinn alone has around 80 international sports events marked on the calendar for this year including the Men’s European Volleyball Championships and the Tallinn Marathon, both in September. Other regions of the country, where international tourists have traditionally been harder to attract, have also benefited, notably from the WRC Rally Estonia which took place in south Estonia in July. The event involved 30,000 people in total, about 10 per cent of them visitors from abroad.