Tourism

About 3.4 million tourists visit Estonia every year, the majority of them come Finland and stay for a short period — morning (night) trip from Helsinki to Tallinn, evening (night) trip from Tallinn to Helsinki. Here they visit shops and service outlets. Tourists who come for a couple of days also go to the theatre and other places outside Tallinn. The number of tourists from Sweden and Germany is constantly growing. In 2003 Tallinn was the third-largest cruise destination at the Baltic Sea (after Copenhagen and St Petersburg), welcoming more than 200 thousand travellers from different parts of the world (USA, Great Britain, etc).

Joining the European Union considerably increased the number of foreign visits in summer 2004, reputedly by 20-25% or even more. The share of diminishing shopping tourists started growing once again as the abolishment of restrictions enabled the Finns to take home more alcohol and tobacco. The number of tourists from more distant countries of the European Union, however, has increased most because of the much easier border crossing and an interest in the new member states. Weekend travellers arrive mostly from Finland but also from Sweden, Russia and Latvia. Visitors arriving by sea usually limit their visit to Tallinn and the areas nearby. People who have come for a longer period travel around the country, visiting the islands, south-east Estonia, nature parks and reserves, enjoying the untouched nature or staying in Estonian sanatoriums and recreation establishments. Hotels and sanatoriums in the so-called resort areas (Pärnu, Haapsalu, the isles, Otepää) are usually packed with foreign visitors.

Direct proceeds form tourism go to tourist agencies and hotels, numerous travel agencies and catering enterprises. As a sizeable part of tourists visit Estonia primarily for shopping purposes, they provide significant income to the shops as well. Various types of service, recreation and health care institutions also belong among beneficiaries. At least 10% of the Estonian economy may be considered directly or indirectly related to tourists.

Trade and services
The Soviet-time system with its under-the-counter buying and selling is ancient history in Estonia — the shopping boom and senseless consumerism are becoming an increasingly serious issue. People naturally disagree and continue to spend, despite the reputedly slowly rising salaries and rapidly rising prices. The last few years have seen an extra swift concentration in trading — small local shops are replaced by super- and hypermarkets, where families sometimes spend an entire day during the weekend. Foreign retail salesmen — from Finland, Sweden as well as from Lithuania and Germany — invade the market with growing enthusiasm.

Provision of different kinds of services — from personal services (hairdressers, beauticians, dentists, etc) to sports and entertainment — is developing very quickly. Tourism has fostered the development of catering and hotels, internal tourism is also gaining popularity. In the rural areas farm tourism and eco-tourism are developing fast.

The economic growth has promoted the emergence of various business and estate enterprises. The initiative of the private sector has gradually become quite significant in education, health care and social welfare.

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