Both Finnish and foreign visitors find Villa Meribjörkö in the Kvarken archipelago, by the western shore of the Björköby village, utterly enchanting. Owner Jukka Viita-aho lets out the facilities to companies and private persons as a venue for conferences or celebrations. Villa Meribjörkö’s trump cards include the stunning scenery, breathtaking sunsets and the beautiful nature on its doorstep. The view from the windows is outstanding, and sometimes people at meetings prefer to look at the archipelago rather than watch a PowerPoint presentation.
Jukka Viita-aho, owner of Villa Meribjörkö, also hires out boats to his guests.
Visitors to Villa Meribjörkö include, for example, the foreign guests of large companies based in Vaasa. Visitors from far and wide marvel at the pureness of nature and the clear sea water.
“They are also fascinated by Meribjörkö’s open fireplace. Often our guests take a picture of the fireplace first and then go over to the window to photograph the scenery. Seeing their enthusiasm gives me energy,” Viita-aho says.
Cooperation is vital
As well as company visitors, Villa Meribjörkö has entertained all kinds of people from war veterans to top Finnish ice hockey players. One of the most memorable groups to visit was an American family of nine who hired the facilities for three days one Christmas.
In addition to the facilities, customers can order food and entertainment to suit their wishes. These are services Viita-aho buys from his partners. As no two customers are the same, Viita-aho emphasises that flexibility is the order of the day.
To be able to offer a comprehensive service, he works in close cooperation with other local businesses. This network comes in handy when he needs a Father Christmas or someone to run a laughter yoga lesson. Networking has been one of Viita-aho’s key principles right from the start. When you know the person offering the complementary services, you can confidently recommend them to your customers.
“I can’t do everything by myself. In a small area like this, competing against each other takes you nowhere. That’s why I direct my customers to other local businesses as necessary. I never just tell a customer that we’re all booked up. Instead, I say that we are booked up right now but I recommend you ask this other company.”
Villa Meribjörkö’s beautiful rooms can be converted to facilities for both conferences and celebrations.
More and more foreign visitors visit the Kvarken area and with them in mind, Villa Meribjörkö together with other entrepreneurs has created a new concept, the Kvarkenevents web site. The site offers information on activities available in the archipelago, among others.
During the Kvarken World Heritage jubilee year in 2016, Meribjörkö started together with the Kvarken World Heritage Site Association to help the Natural Resources Institute Finland to research fish growth and movement by tagging pike in the archipelago. Whenever you catch a tagged pike on your fishing trip, you get a small reward.
– Less than ten of the pikes that were tagged in 2016 have been caught, meaning that there is a whole lot of them out there, says Viita-aho.
A seasonal job
Viita-aho contemplated becoming a business owner for a couple of years before doing it. For more than 20 years he had worked for the trading sector company Kesko, selling services to companies. But he longed for something more. After making the decision to take the plunge and become a business owner, his sense of relief was immense.
“Being a business owner is about freedom and opportunities. Enjoying your work and having the Kvarken as a working environment can’t be measured in cash.”
Viita-aho started by contacting VASEK and compiled a business plan with their help. Now he encourages business owners and others interested in becoming entrepreneurs to start the process with VASEK. The beginning was not the only time Viita-aho has collaborated with VASEK; he has since participated, for example, in VASEK’s training on the use of social media for tourism businesses.
Villa Meribjörkö’s trump cards include the stunning scenery, breathtaking sunsets and the beautiful nature on its doorstep.
One thing that surprised this enterprising man was the seasonal nature of the tourism industry. In the summer, Villa Meribjörkö is favoured by company visitors until midsummer, whereas July quickly gets filled with family celebrations. November and December is the season of Christmas parties for various companies. The quietest times run from January to March and from September to October. At times, these seasonal fluctuations are a real challenge.
“I’m run off my feet in the summer, whereas in the winter I have plenty of time to sit around and relax. I urge people to take advantage of the services offered by the archipelago entrepreneurs all year round,” he says, and wishes everyone a hearty welcome to Villa Meribjörkö.
Photographs: VASEK and Jukka Viita-aho/Meribjörkö
Translation: Taina Pemberton
The Kvarken archipelago is the only World Natural Heritage Site in Finland listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The archipelago is rising from the sea in a process of glacio-isostatic uplift in which the land that used to be weighed down by the glacier during the last Ice Age continues to lift today. Nowhere in the world is this uplift better displayed than in the Kvarken, and at rates that are among the highest in the world. Consequently, you can see unique glacial formations in the Kvarken archipelago, such as De Geer moraines and ribbed moraines, which make the scenery so exceptional and varied.
For more information go to: http://www.kvarkenworldheritage.fi/experience-kvarken/
Read the other articles about the Kvarken archipelago:
Molpehällorna island, Cruise to the Mickelsörarna, Granösund Museum, Sommaröhallen crafts shop, Aava Kerttu homestead, Merenkurkun Majatalo inn, Kvarkenturer & Café Salteriet.