Discovering life in Hel in the happy capital of the world

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It’s 4a.m and this is the view from The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Helsinki Bureau.

It’s two days short of the official start of summer in Finland and the long darkness of winter has been temporarily forgotten. As the Finns say, the summer isn’t endless in Finland, but there are almost endless summer days. I finished working around midnight last night and it was light. I woke at 3.45a.m. (should have drawn the curtains) and it was even more so.

This is truly a country of four seasons and I’m here, along with a very large gathering of the airport food & beverage community, to enjoy the transition from one to another. Tomorrow we kick off our annual Airport Food & Beverage (FAB) Conference & Awards, an event that has come a long way both literally and figuratively since its launch in January 2011 in Manchester.

We’re delighted to bring the event to Helsinki, capital of the nation that, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report, is the happiest country in the world. I am certainly happy to be here.

Yesterday I flew in from Heathrow Terminal 3 to Helsinki Airport (our FAB hosts in every sense this week are airport owner Finavia) and what an interesting airport this is. There’s a lot of excellent retail and food & beverage, much of it with a highly distinctive Sense of Place.

I also snapped some of the good (most of it) and the less good from Heathrow T3. I really like the new Dufry wrap around digital signage, which is tremendously impactful.

The beauty department, as always, has some nice touches (Tom Ford Beauty has just brought its new concept there) and there’s an excellent premium spirits offering, including an eclectic array of gins that reflects the category’s resurgent performance.

It seems, however, that Dufry has rather given up on the wine category here (oddly given its incremental purchase value). I needed to buy a bottle of something very good (and in my case very particular) to settle a long-standing (lost) bet in Helsinki and I was disappointed at my choice’s absence and at the range in general.  The premium offer (below) seems to have shrunk like a cardigan in the wash from the last time I was here.

I took a rushed breakfast at The Curator, which, judging by the constant queue outside and packed tables, was doing roaring business. Based on my experience, I am not surprised. Even though my smashed avocado served on a muffin with feta, fresh mint and chilli wandered as lonely as any of Wordsworth’s clouds on the plate, it was delicious, fairly priced (£7.50), served quickly as promised and accompanied by staff friendliness that almost can’t be coached.

Because I was in a rush I chose to sit at a bar table and be served from behind the bar. The young man’s name was Stephen and restaurant owner TRG Concessions, you have an outstandingly courteous ambassador.

From London’s main gateway to that of Helsinki. Last year Helsinki Airport masterminded a brilliantly innovative marketing campaign called #LIFEINHEL, in which Chinese influencer Ryan Zhu documented 30 days spent living at the airport. It generated an audience estimated at 2.2 billion people.

The extraordinary consumer reach was driven by Ryan’s and the airport’s social media plus extensive mainstream and industry coverage. The campaign attracted around 10 million video views.

Despite the clever tagline, there’s nothing hellish about the Helsinki Airport experience. It’s cool, modern and very Finnish. As the Ryan Zhu project might suggest, there’s also a lot of Chinese (and other Asian) passengers here and the airport makes every effort to serve them well.

The oft-stated criticism that airports too often look the same certainly doesn’t apply here. There are some great design, art and cultural touches.

I liked what I saw of the F&B offer (Nordic Kitchen looks wonderful and every bit as popular as The Curator) and Dufry (branded as World Duty Free) has done a really nice job here too. Again there is good use of digital media (though, alas, the wine offer, pictured below, is more minimalist than a Finnish sauna and just as lonely as my smashed avocado at Heathrow).

Note the ‘A World Duty Free Group Experience’ tagline, the first time I have seen it. The main store does, in fact, offer a very nice experience.

Yesterday afternoon I watched entranced from my 15th floor room here at the Clarion Hotel as the giant Tallink and Silja Line ferries headed out into the Gulf of Finland. What a splendid sight. I took a light meal at the excellent ground floor restaurant, the food as fresh as the crisp evening air. The endless daylight might not be good for the sleep pattern but it feels more like heaven than hel to me in the happiest country on earth.