In just a few years, Sirly Schinmann and Heidi Seikkula have established themselves in the luxury travel business. Their hotel, the Aurora Estate, in Ylläsjärvi received the award for Best New Boutique Hotel in Europe in the annual Boutique Hotel Awards last year. Thanks to their strong vision, they are now making a new dream come true and will be opening a new luxury hotel in Inari that is being funded by Finnish and British investors.
“I received an inquiry via LinkedIn, asking if we had time to discuss ideas for a collaboration. A Finnish investment group had signed a lease for a hotel site in Inari, in Lapland and there were two potential financiers. We were not the only candidate to operate the hotel, but our concept was very positively received,” Sirly Schinmann explains.
Lloyd Amsdon, 46, is one of the founders of Watchfinder one of 100 fastest growing companies in the UK in the online watch business. The women met Lloyd Amsdon in the summer and he was impressed by their professionalism. Luxury is Amsdon’s life’s work, and he admires the wilderness in Lapland and the region’s great potential.
Amsdon has said that he believes he has the skill of recognising potential success and when he spots an opportunity, it must be seized. Now he wants to make sure that Aurora Estate Inari will be completed according to schedule.
“Having already visited the project location twice, experiencing first-hand the amazing services an activities available in this region, I am very enthusiastic about investing in the Aurora Estate Inari Project,” Lloyd Amsdon comments.
The other investor is a local Inari businessman, Antero Ylävaara, who owns a big shopping centre in Saariselkä.
The first Aurora Estate Hotel
The Aurora Estate story began somewhat by accident when Sirly Schinmann and Heidi Seikkula decided to bid for a property lease in the Ylläsjärvi area. It was available because two other entrepreneurs had planned to build a sauna and a venue for special occasions using a log frame, but before the building was even completed, they made the decision to lease it out.
The two ladies had worked together at several restaurants in Ylläs and had discovered that they shared similar ideas about what kind of services should be offered for tourists and locals in Lapland. They wanted to do things differently, in their own way and do something that would change the tourism business in Lapland for good.
“There was competition for the property, but our business idea was probably the most refined and our presentation impressed the financiers, and as a result, we signed a ten-year lease for the property,” explains Heidi, who is the CEO of the company.
The original plans for Aurora Estate (see above photo) comprised about 1,600 square feet, but when the building was finished, it had been extended to nearly 3,800 sq. feet. Heidi Seikkula and Sirly Schinmann have designed the seven unique rooms themselves, as well as the fine dining restaurant that seats 50 people. Aurora Estate opened for business in December 2015.
The ladies were able to attend the Kasvu Open sparring program for SME entrepreneurs the following year. “That gave us great ideas for growth. We received excellent coaching during those couple of days and we were able to identify our strengths. The Aurora Estate concept is based on high quality and customised services,” Sirly Schinmann explains.
They own equal shares of the company running Aurora Estate and make decisions together. Sirly Schinmann is an artist, who runs the kitchen and manages the marketing activities, while Heidi Seikkula sees to the dining area, the hotel, sauna facilities and finances.
The beginning was not easy, even though Estonia-native Sirly Schinmann had already gained fame in the first season of Finnish Master Chef. Over the first few years, the entrepreneurs worked long hours, but by now, more responsibility has been assigned to the staff.
“In the beginning, we had to do a lot ourselves, everything from cleaning and heating the sauna, because we have built this business from scratch with the help of a bank loan and a start-up grant. In the spring, we would go out and tour all the major trade-fair exhibitions to market our new destination in Inari, and our skilled staff will be running the place here,” Heidi Seikkula comments.
Sirly Schinmann takes on private gigs for companies and individuals as a chef. Her private chef bookings can even take her to locations out in the fells for a week to serve customers.
The wilderness and serenity attract
Lloyd Amsdon is fascinated by the nature in Lapland. He is also a keen fisherman, who enjoys the luxury of peace and quiet of the wilderness in Lapland.
Heidi Seikkula hails from Pello, a small town in Lapland, and already fell in love with Lapland as a child. Sirly Schinmann, who is a native of Estonia, has put down roots in Ylläs after finding her partner, Aleksi, there.
Both of the women have traveled the world, but think of Lapland as their home. “I have found myself a big family here through Aleksi and Heidi. It is unbelievable how a place can make you feel at home. This really is where I belong, this is a great place for you to be,” Sirly Schinmann explains.
The women cannot imagine exporting their concept to southern Finland. “The wilderness, serenity and purity are our selling points, and they cannot be found elsewhere. If we were forced to leave, we would relocate in northern Sweden or Norway!” they declare.
The duo enthuses over how straightforward Lapland is and how great their operating environment is. With only a few operators, networking becomes fast and easy. Like-minded people find each other for sourcing ingredients or purchasing additional services for the customers.
“We highly value ethical factors. We prefer to buy from local producers – wild duck comes from Sweden, which sometimes puzzles our guests, but when we explain that it is a more locally sourced option than if it came from Oulu or Helsinki, they understand,” Heidi Seikkula says.
Seikkula is responsible for purchasing the wines for the restaurant. She seeks to comply with the principles of sustainable development. “The house wine comes from the Fontanafredda Estate in Italy, where environmental conservation is one of the key values. You must have high-quality wines to accompany high-quality meals.”
Fast progress for the new hotel in Inari
The Aurora Estate Inari project is well under way and the hotel will be ready in 2021. The hotel, built on the banks of Juutuanjoki River, will feature 41 rooms and a restaurant seating 140-150 people and, like the restaurant at the Ylläsjärvi hotel, will use locally produced, high-quality ingredients. The restaurant will have a Chef’s Table, where customers can learn about the secrets of the chef by watching their work.
The architect behind the hotel is Kari Lappalainen, who has designed several well-known buildings in Lapland – its appearance alone will be unique.
“It might no longer be me who picks the berries and mushrooms for the kitchen at the Inari hotel, and perhaps my mother will not be making the jams for the winter breakfast buffet, but we will still know where the ingredients come from and who has picked the berries and mushrooms,” Sirly Schinmann plans.
At the moment, most of the Aurora Estate guests come from Europe, for example from Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Europeans will also be the primary target group for marketing efforts for the new hotel.
“Our concept works best with European guests, but we have already had guests coming in from Singapore and the US without any marketing efforts. We will continue to focus on luxury travel in Inari, too, and we are confident that there is great potential for growth with this concept in the near future,” Sirly Schinmann explains.
The women will start marketing the hotel in Inari at the tourism and travel fairs in Berlin, Cannes and Helsinki, but they will also head out to Singapore and Hong Kong.
“Our goal is to have a sufficient occupancy rate right from the moment the hotel opens,” Schinmann continues.
A cookbook will soon be published by Schinmann and Seikkula, Auroran herkut (Treats from Aurora), in which they openly share their professional tips. Sirly Schinmann continues filming for the C’More sports channel, but, nowadays, the food tips are filmed in Ylläs, because she is so busy with her business. The women are also in the middle of negotiations with the Finnish design house Pentik for the launch of their own range of tableware.
Sirly Schinmann says that there will always be wealthy people around the world, and they will want to visit Lapland to experience something unique and, therefore, require exclusive services at the destination.
This article is based on an article “The entrepreneurs of Aurora Estate are developing a new exclusive hotel in Inari” originally published in the House of Lapland – www.houseoflapland.fi www.lapland.fi