FINLAND. “What is the longest time you have ever spent in an airport?” Thus began an email addressed to The Moodie Davitt Report.

Delays, flight cancellations, ultra-long layovers – in this industry we have all had our share of ‘nightmare’ travel experiences.

Chinese influencer Ryan Zhu accepted an intriguing challenge from Helsinki Airport

But one international airport is challenging the preconception that spending more time in airport than necessary is a ‘hellish’ experience.

Helsinki Airport wants to challenge misconceptions that airport travel can be a ‘hellish’ experience

When Helsinki Airport was named the world’s best by Travellink, its operator Finavia set out to prove that it is the best airport in the world with the fastest connection between Asia and Europe.

Putting that claim to the ultimate test, Finavia challenged prominent Chinese influencer, actor and TV personality Ryan Zhu to live in Helsinki Airport for 30 days.

#LIFEINHEL

Zhu’s #LIFEINHEL kicked off on 10 October. Featuring the ‘World’s longest layover’, #LIFEINHEL was a mix of reality TV, game shows and social media.

Zhu spent 30 days in a small cabin inside Helsinki Airport. Each day he attempted various challenges and experienced different aspects of the airport (including shopping and dining). Ryan’s adventures were broadcast on social media daily.

 

His experiences included a shopping challenge to purchase five essential items for his 30 days, within 30 minutes. Zhu chose a warm Finnish jacket, noise-cancelling headphones, a watch, a souvenir and a hydrating facial mask. The task conveyed the airport’s diverse product offer and the convenience and speed of shopping for time-short travellers.

Zhu was set challenges throughout his 30-day stay from purchasing travel essentials within 30 minutes to trying various Finnish dishes

Throughout his stay, Zhu sampled the airport’s food & beverage offer from grab-and-go options to upmarket dining. His daily adventures were documented by videos highlighting the services and amenities available at the airport, such as:

Zhu’s stay was followed by a vast audience from around the world including media such as CNN, Business Insider, MSN and Lonely Planet. See all the episodes at: lifeinhel.tv.

Smooth travelling

After his 30-day challenged ended, Helsinki operator Finavia highlighted how smooth travelling to Finland can be by rewarding Zhu with a trip to Lapland.

“We want to show the millions of people following the #LIFEINHEL campaign on social media that Lapland is real, not just a place in a fairy tale. Of course, we wish that many will follow Ryan’s example to travel to Finland and Lapland,” said Finavia Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Katja Siberg.

In an exclusive interview with The Moodie Davitt Report, Zhu relived moments of his 30-day experience in ‘HEL’, including dining at FAB ‘Wow Factor’ Award winner Pier Zero.

HMSHost International CEO Walter Seib (right) collecting the FAB Wow Factor award earlier this year

The Moodie Davitt Report:  What did you eat and drink in Pier Zero?

Ryan Zhu: At Pier Zero I had the salmon, steak and blueberry smoothies.

Could you share your experience with us? What do you think about the food, drinks, service and environment there?

The food here is very delicate and the ingredients are very fresh. People can feel that each dish is cooked with heart. The blueberry smoothie at this restaurant is very good; it is my favourite at the airport. They have wonderful services and always ask me carefully what I need and whether I am satisfied with the food.

Zhu was particularly impressed with the fresh quality food and service at Pier Zero

Now can you understand why Pier Zero won the award in the international catering industry?

I think Pier Zero deserves it. They put a lot of care into their food and the design of the restaurant stands out, it looks very cool.

The food here is very delicate and the ingredients are very fresh. People can feel that each dish is cooked with heart.– Ryan Zhu

You’ve been to numerous places all over the world and based on your experience, generally speaking, what do you think of the restaurants at the airport?

I often travel abroad and have had dinner at many airports. The food options out there are also delicious, but eating at Helsinki Airport often makes me forget that I am at the airport and I feel like I’m in a nice restaurant.

Do you think airports around the world offer a good service for Chinese tourists, especially shops and restaurants?

There are always Chinese versions of airport signs, adverts and restaurant menus in many airports around the world. Helsinki Airport has gone one step further and has set up Chinese service desks and a large number of Chinese shopping guides and e-translators are available. I am very pleased that Chinese tourists have received such care and attention at Helsinki Airport.

What do you think other airports could do to take better care of Chinese tourists?

I think it would be a great idea to hire more Chinese service staff in shops and restaurants so that Chinese tourists can learn more about the food they are eating and the products they are buying.

I am very pleased that Chinese tourists have received such care and attention at Helsinki Airport.– Ryan Zhu

Did you have a good time in Helsinki? Can you share some of the highlights or any surprises with us?

To be honest, I don’t want to leave Helsinki airport now. I felt the warmth of home here. Everyone is friendly and warm to me. Almost every day, someone comes to my cabin to give me small gifts and surprises. There is even Chinese staff making Chinese food for me. I am really moved by the entire experience.

To be honest, I don’t want to leave Helsinki airport now. I felt the warmth of home here.– Ryan Zhu

Can you predict how many people around the world are paying attention to your story now?

I think there are about 100 million people, I’m not sure, but I hope there will be more. My fans always respond positively and want to know more about the #LIFEINHEL campaign.

Can you tell us which duty free products are your ‘essentials’?

Moisturising skin-care products. I cannot live at the airport for such a long time without these products because my skin can’t stand the dryness.

Moisturising skin-care products are on top of Ryan Zhu’s duty free shopping list

What will you do next after this special experience in Helsinki?

I will go to Lapland with my parents and my teacher. I am very excited to see more of Finland and share this journey with my parents. It has always been a dream of mine to bring my parents overseas with me. Then I will go back to China and start filming a Chinese TV Drama.

More about Ryan and the #LIFEINHEL campaign

#LIFEINHEL_Ryan bio

#LIFEINHEL_Campaign Facts