Taking off together: Connecting Vilnius and Stockholm

Dec 21, 2016
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We all know that there are potential projects out there that everyone wants to happen: true win-win scenarios. And sometimes all it takes is a little focus, and someone to take the bull by the horns, to get things going.

Investment agencies, with their network of public and private contacts, are uniquely positioned to do this. That’s what we discovered when we targeted the establishment of direct flights between Vilnius and Stockholm. And we also learned that, when you build a strong team, all pulling in the same direction, amazing things can happen.

A grand coalition

Having a clear focus makes a huge difference: in this case, the focus came from new management. Our newly appointed Director, Milda Darguzaite, identified the establishment of direct flights between Vilnius and Stockholm as a key priority.

Why? Sweden was, and still is, one of the biggest investors in Lithuania (last year it accounted for 26.3% of all FDI, with investments totalling €3,175 million). And yet in 2012 there were still no direct flights between the countries’ capitals. Ryanair was operating a service 3 times a week between Kaunas and Skavsta Stockholm Airport, but finding additional routes was imperative.

The most important step for us was to build a coalition of companies, agencies and institutions who all wanted to see this new flight route become a reality. We started by carefully researching the situation and drawing up a white paper of our findings.

Then, armed with our detailed data, we spoke to the main Swedish companies operating in Lithuania, plus Business Sweden and the Swedish embassy. It wasn’t a tough sell; most saw the value straightaway, and were happy to lend their voice to our cause.

Then, over in Sweden, we met with Swedavia, the Swedish aviation authority, and pitched the idea to them. As it turned out, they had already identified the need to establish a link between the two capitals. From their perspective, the new route would help them generate more transit passengers travelling through Stockholm airport. They were competing with Helsinki and Copenhagen, both of whom had direct flights to Vilnius. A new route would mean passengers from Lithuania travelling on to Asia or the US via Stockholm.

Getting it off the ground

Our visit catalysed the whole process, and, with so many parties all keen for it to happen, its realisation was virtually instantaneous.

We agreed with Swedavia this would be a joint project. They set about speaking to flight operators, first in Sweden, then in Lithuania. It was an easy sell. With a huge list of companies backing the project, plus state institutions on both sides, the companies could see the potential.

In March 2013, just two months after our first meeting, SAS launched direct flights between Vilnius and Stockholm.

And, just as we had expected (and hoped), demand was strong. A year later, Norwegian started operating the same route. At first Norwegian were only operating a seasonal service, but we wanted to support them in offering the service all year around. We agreed on a marketing budget for promoting Lithuania in Sweden, another win-win project. For the company, helped boost passenger flows, and for us, we got to talk up Lithuania as a business and tourist destination.

Find your focus

So, what’s the take home? This case taught us that projects which benefit all parties are out there waiting to happen. And, when you find them they happen very fast. So what stops them happening more? The missing ingredient is focus and initiative, something investment agencies are there to provide. We found our focus, and we took the initiative; and once the project had momentum, there was no stopping it.

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