Virtual EUSBSR Annual Forum 2020 in Turku

Credits: Jaska Poikonen

Credits: Jaska Poikonen

The City of Turku hosted the Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

In terms of all technical and other arrangements, Logomo, which has navigated the stormy waters of the coronavirus outbreak skilfully, remained the central venue, even though circumstances forced the event to go virtual.

“The event will be put together differently but just as well,” said City of Turku’s Manager of International Affairs Mika Akkanen at the end of June when asked about the arrangements for the EUSBSR Annual Forum. The related steering group led by Akkanen had just decided to organise the event virtually and the air was thick with question marks.

The project manager’s spontaneous but confident response lived on as a guideline for the virtual implementation, which was considered plan C to start with. The event for some thousand participants had already been postponed from June to October due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The arrangements were well on their way when the coronavirus hit. First, we decided to push back the conference, but in June we concluded that the situation would not have relented by autumn. Still, instead of cancelling the event, we decided to make it fully virtual. Even a hybrid implementation seemed too unsure an option,” Akkanen says.

EUSBSR (The European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region) is an agreement between the EU Member States and the Commission on strengthening cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. Turku was adamant not to lose the chance to host the EUSBSR Annual Forum 2020, which it applied for with considerable effort since Denmark waived the opportunity 18 months ago. Last year’s Forum was held in Gdansk, Poland.

The City of Turku aims to organise an international congress or event every few years, often with a theme related in some way to the sea and the environment. “Turku has a long history in working to advance cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region, especially in the fields of environmental protection and sustainability. We are honoured to host the EUSBSR Annual Forum for the second time – especially in these exceptional circumstances when the Forum this year will be held online from Turku, for the first time. For us this is a sign of trust and appreciation for the persevering work done by Turku,” says Mayor of Turku Minna Arve.

As the host of the EUSBSR Annual Forum, Turku has the opportunity to influence the event content and its preparations. Alongside the City of Turku, the main organisers are the Council of the Baltic Sea States and the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. “As the host city, we can add a local angle to the content and impress upon the decision-makers what issues related to the sea mean here in Turku. All conferences are important platforms for communications, branding and protecting one’s interests. There is always a content-related objective in addition to the goal of gaining income for the travel sector,” Akkanen says.

Logomo demonstrates its agility and goes virtual

The EUSBSR Annual Forum was organised at the Logomo Event and Conference Centre in Turku on 20 October 2020. The versatile venue remained the home base for the conference, despite the impromptu virtual arrangements. “It was extremely important to us to ensure that even though people are participating remotely from across Europe, they could mentally anchor the event in Turku and Logomo,” Akkanen says, praising the partner’s agility in the difficult situation. Logomo and Bright Finland, which provided the technology for the event, refused to be crippled by the spring’s coronavirus catastrophe and began virtual arrangements without missing a beat.

“We built a studio at Logomo, which provides an excellent technical framework for the broadcasts. This took fairly little effort, since some of the equipment was already there”, says Bright Finland’s Project Manager Sami Heikkilä. During the Annual Forum, about a dozen people were on location at Logomo – the opening speakers and panel moderators, in addition to the technical crew.

The Annual Forum and its preparations present a valuable lesson for the City of Turku, which intends to share information generously with future hosts. The event model for the future will most likely be a hybrid where some participate physically and others virtually. “People want personal contact, too, but virtual arrangements are certainly not going anywhere. It is not necessary to fly halfway across the world for every conference. Logomo is an excellent venue for a hybrid event,” Heikkilä stated.

Mika Akkanen wanted to be on location at Logomo at the Annual Forum, even though most of his work will take place before the event. The various phases of the organisation process were too thrilling to miss the grand finale. “I did not want to miss one second. I am very much interested in the virtual implementation and wanted to see how the technology works and where all the cables go. I obviously tried to stay out of the way,” Akkanen said with a chuckle.

Mika Akkanen is very satisfied that the City of Turku and its partners were brave enough to accept the challenge despite the circumstances and ensure high-quality implementation for the event. The goal was to attract 600 delegates and the virtual congress had altogether 840 participants. It was a message to each an everyone of us: life goes on despite many things being different.

Read the original article by Turku Convention Bureau / Visit Turku here.