An exclusive interview with Timo Heinaro, CEO, Fincentive

Enfant terrible

Could you introduce yourself to us in two sentences – one as your private persona and the other your public one?

Firstly quoting what I have somehow managed to write on my Facebook profile: adventure-spirited, outdoors oriented, global travel lunatic, authenticity appreciative. Hopefully this also comes across positively in the public self.

Q: Which are your favourite magazines in the tourism field?
I follow industry magazines mainly via newsletters: Incentive Magazine, Lonely Planet, SITE, Enterprise Engagement Alliance and anything similar from what the big boys out there are producing. Also, people performance improvement companies all around the world are producing very interesting stuff worth keeping an eye on.

Q: What was the last book you read and which book would you recommend to our readers?
Inspired by this question I started reading one of my long time favourites: Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kon-Tiki”. It is such a gripping, classic adventure book. I didn’t know before that his crossing of the Pacific eastwards on a balsa raft actually took place in 1947. I also like Jon Krakauer’s books, the title of one, “Eiger Dreams”, I even borrowed for an incentive program that took guests climbing on the North Face of Eiger.

Q: What was the last event you attended?
My mother’s 80th Birthday, spent together with closest family on our summer island. It was a beautiful and sunny day – a very warmly spirited event and good to see her still in such good shape and mood.

Q: What was the last movie you saw?
Joe Wright’s movie “Atonement”, based on Ian McEwan’s famous book. A great movie which makes you go through a whole scale of feelings and is gripping right to the surprising climax.

Q: How many foreign languages do you speak?
As you probably consider Finnish to be a very foreign language, with that included, four: Finnish, English, Swedish and German. Plus a few wobbly ones on top of those. I most regret not learning Russian when living in St Petersburg for a year.

I can probably say ‘Cheers’ in a few dozen languages, somehow I also managed to have very good practise with “Na zdravje” when visiting the Adriatic countries!

Q: Who were your idols when you were growing up and who are they today?
I recall that my first idol as a kid was a family friend car racer, especially after receiving a postcard from him. Since then, sports idols have come and gone. As part of getting wiser (?), prominent world political figures have come to replace them: Gandhi, Mandela etc., but maybe this is more respect. Edmund Hillary I have met twice and both those moments were unforgettable.

Q: What was your first job and what is your current job?
I started as a salesperson and cattle-handler – at the age of five! I had to stop when nobody any longer wanted to buy the wild strawberry plants I had torn from the woods. And my career as cattle-handler finished when one time I lost the lust to wake up at five in the morning to milk the cows at the neighbouring farm.

Now I run a full service incentive house where the travel side especially is my baby. Also, I bought back my old adventure company, so this autumn will be a busy one seeing if an old dog still can learn new tricks.

Q: What is the first thing you do when you get to work?
When waiting for my laptop to wake up from its lethargy (with hopes to do the same to myself) I make a nice cup of tea with a lot of honey. Doesn’t matter if the tea is still waiting for me, brewing already for two hours, I still drink it!

Q: What has been the biggest influenced on your life, a person or an event?
Spending a year in New Zealand as Rotary Exchange Student 30 years ago sparked the desire for an international career. Getting stuck in Hong Kong during Tiananmen Square Massacre made sure it was not going to be the career of an international banker. There I met a person who introduced me to the adventure travel business and it was only a short step from there to corporate events and the experiences business in general.

Q: Could you highlight for us your best and worse life experiences?
The best experience is for sure the birth of my two wonderful children, a boy and a girl. I’ve been sheltered from any big losses in my life or dramatic drawbacks, so the worst life experience probably is being washed down the the worst rapids on the Shotover River in New Zealand. I got so scared of the water that I had to do a diving course and have enough of that stuff around me. So, before long I was rafting again.

Q: What are you most proud of?
Having life-long friends with whom we still stick together and do fun things frequently.

Q: Which success story from the field of tourism would you particularly highlight?
How the MICE players from St Petersburg, Russia, brought themselves to the knowledge of buyers with no support from the official organisations (okay, they could use the embassies, which was exotic for everybody). It was true teamwork for a common cause.

Q: Which marketing idea for you sticks out the most in the field of tourism?
How Iceland markets itself as a land of fire. No matter what the weather, you’ll get hot there!

Q: What do you think is missing most in SE Europe’s meeting industry?
I am very comfortable with the offering by Slovenia and the coast of Croatia, but there is a need for much more ideas, education and lowering of the (psychological?) threshold for the potential of the rest of the region.

Q: Would you share with us your favourite places to visit in spring, summer, fall and winter?
Sure. The easiest answer is that Hvar Island covers the first three. But Lapland is the best place to be in early spring when the days are long and snow still good for skiing. In July you won’t get me out of my summer island in the Eastern Lakelands of Finland. The ultimate experience for autumn is to see the Great Migration in the Masai Mara, Kenya, or doing all those adrenaline activities in Victoria Falls closer to Christmas. But, of course wintertime in the Alps is at the top of the wish list.

Q: What do you do in your free time?
In summertime, sailing as much as possible. In winter downhill skiing, also as much as possible. Otherwise I’m trying to maintain my physical condition by biking, snowshoeing etc. Frequently I bathe at the Finnish Sauna Society. Right now I am waiting for the funnel chantarel season to start.

Your life motto?

“No Pain, No Gain.” Trying hard to keep the stones rolling. But, perhaps for the storytelling above is best applied the life-guiding principle of “you always have to speak the truth – but no sense to tell everything!”