Styled mannequins watched over an empty hallway in the shopping centre Grande Orchidée on Tuesday.The flow of Russian tourists to Finland has dried up in the first few months of the year, resulting in a year-to-year drop of some 30 per cent in the value of tax-free shopping by Russian visitors.

After growing steadily since 2009, passenger volumes on Finland's south-eastern borders similarly declined by five per cent from the previous year between January and March, suggest statistics published by the Finnish Customs and Global Blue Finland.

In Helsinki, the decrease in Russian tourists has been noticed especially at Stockmann, where no imminent recovery in customer numbers is expected, says Maisa Romanainen, the director of the department store chain. “As of yet, we don't have the tax-free figures from March, but early this year the sales have declined on par with nationwide statistics. The change is most obvious in the sales of designer bags and expensive shoes,” she tells.

No data or statistics are required to notice the loss of tourists in the lobby of the Grande Orchidée, a shopping centre in Lappeenranta. The 3,500 square metre shopping centre was opened last November specifically to appeal to large groups of foreign shoppers.

On Tuesday morning, only one customer strolled amid the gold-lined setting.

“As you can see, the sliding exchange rate of the rouble has had a clear effect on our customer numbers. Sales remained at a good level up until January, but then came a steep fall. Early April has been satisfactory,” tells Topi Riutta, an aide to the CEO of Atma Trade, the owner of the shopping complex.

The two other shopping centres operated by Atma Trade, Riutta says, have similarly recorded a year-on-year decline of roughly 30 per cent in sales. Sited in Imatra and Lappeenranta, the shopping centres offer primarily consumer goods, whereas the Grande Orchidée offers luxury items and designer clothing items.

Atma Trade in March initiated consultative negotiations with 180 of its staff members due to the weak economic situation. The retailer will do its utmost to avoid lay-offs but may have to resort to temporary lay-offs, CEO Mohamad Darwich says.

Thus far, the retailer has thrived, recording annual net sales of 55 million euros in 2013, Darwich reveals.

Aapo Mentula – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Johannes Wiehn