Queuing at a museum entrance in the pouring rain. Attempting to get video footage of a must-see tourist attraction over the tops of other tourists’ heads. Trying to look enraptured while thinking you should have got the cheaper tickets to go to Mallorca instead. Not speaking a word to the locals and writing a few post cards that praise the superiority of European metropolises’ museum supply (Mondo Travel Magazine 2/2002). Sound familiar? Not to worry! There are others who want more from travelling. May Kim’s MA thesis in the field of service design, titled The Central Library as the stepping stone of Helsinki, introduces the AITO service concept that can help tourists in Helsinki to get a glimpse of places as yet undiscovered by others. The thesis has been shortlisted for the Grafia Best of the Year award.
The AITO concept promotes creative travelling through interaction between tourists and locals. The Central Library AITO service design package compiles thematic service kits to suit travellers’ needs and give them the opportunity to discover the authentic Helsinki. “Tourism and library services seem to have little in common at first. But as my work progressed, I realised they actually have a great deal in common. Both fields are service- and customer-oriented,” explains May Kim, ‘mother’ of the AITO concept. “The library is a place of cultural hustle and bustle and a source of good‑quality information. I find it natural to think that the library could provide added value to travellers,” she explains.
“Let’s say that Manuela, a Spanish woman interested in photography and flea markets, is planning a trip to Helsinki,” illustrates May. “She can go to the AITO website and order an AITO welcoming package to help her gain a closer perspective on Helsinki. Once she has arrived in Helsinki, Manuela can decide for herself how to utilise AITO services. She can acquire information on Finnish photographers or photo exhibitions in Helsinki through the AITO Story service. Or she can get the AITO Kits package and go on a bicycle tour of the picturesque Nuuksio. With the help of the AITO Buddy service, she can even get a local photography association coordinator to accompany her on her tour,” continues May. “The library functions as a mediator, an information filter, an interpreter and a user interface with the city,” May explains.
The AITO concept: five ways of discovering the city
The AITO concept contains the following five elements: AITO welcoming package, AITO Story, AITO Kits, AITO Culture and AITO Buddy. The welcoming package can be ordered through the AITO website before embarking on a trip. The package connects travellers to Helsinki by providing a selection of tips, chosen according to the traveller’s interests, on local culture and events as well as library materials and events. The welcoming package also includes a temporary library card. AITO Story takes into account the fact that travellers are at their happiest when planning a trip and gathering information for it. AITO Story provides reliable, good‑quality background information and stories on the city. It has been produced in cooperation with local residents.
AITO Kits contains several versatile functional packages created by the library. They help travellers to discover the city from surprising angles. The packages provide the opportunity to throw yourself into learning experiences, everyday adventures and a whole spectrum of other things. One example is the bicycle tour package comprising a free city bicycle, a map with route recommendations and tips on discovery voyages to Helsinki as well as a bicycle reparation kit just in case. AITO Culture introduces various workshops, events and courses organised by the library – customised according to travellers’ interests. For example, tourists can participate in afternoon classes on new Finnish cuisine in the shared Central Library kitchen.
AITO Buddy tries to direct travellers away from preconceived ideas conjured by the travel industry and towards a more authentic concept of the city. Travellers may choose a “live guide” from among the numerous buddy profiles in the AITO service. The guide does not necessarily have to take you to see the sights. If desired, they can just accompany you for a coffee or a day trip to Porvoo or participate in a typical Finnish social gathering with you. People and interaction are a central contact point in a creative travel experience.
Freedom to experience or take a road trip – even in your hometown
The service experience is formed before the trip, (brochures, web services, stories), during the trip (accommodation, food, nature, travel, encounters, experiences, people) and after the trip (photos, stories, presents). “The AITO concept covers the entire span of the trip. It provides an alternative to mass tourism and helps travellers adjust their focus on the land of thousands of lakes, sisu and salmiakki and penetrate deeper into the essence of Finland,” says May. AITO sounds like a good plan – in fact, I might want to be a tourist in my home town!