SINGING AND SKYPING DESTINATION
Over the last couple of years, Estonia has been heavily presenting itself as a technologically advanced country and the birthplace of tech giants such as Skype, Hotmail, and Kazaa (an early file-sharing network). On our last visit we were struck by the revelation that Estonia is unjustifiably one of the most overlooked countries out there – it was the first country in the world to introduce on-line elections; it has the most developed broadband internet connection; its citizens pay their parking tickets using mobile phones and it was one of the first countries to store medical details in digital form. This all started when the then Prime Minister, Mart Laar, and his young government laid the foundations of the Estonian economy back in 1992, at a time when the average age of ministers was well over 35. One of Laar’s innovations was to allow for the speedy establishment of new companies without any major bureaucratic procedures, a move that saw the founding of a lot of tech companies, most of them going on to flourish in the international market. Through their actions the young ministers solidified Estonia’s internet future, creating a spirit that can also be felt in the capital city’s dynamic congress industry.
Old for New
Coming back home from my visit to Tallinn, one question in particular kept sparking my curiosity: What makes Tallinn so attractive for tourists and meeting planners? I realized that it is an intertwinement of the city’s history, its heritage and its fast-paced tempo set by dynamic digitalization. The main city square, old gothic city hall, church belfries and the ferry port are just some of the interesting elements that make up the historic mosaic of this city. The picturesque old city core is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making cultural tourism an important part of Tallinn’s economy. The new city centre, where traditional Estonian wooden houses merge with glass skyscrapers, lets you know that things are changing and that Tallinn is also a city of the future, the heart of e-Estonia. It’s a city that has changed the way things are done, whether that be health, finance, education, security, civil obligations or filling out tax returns – Tallinn is bringing things into the digital era.
Tehnopol and Technopolis
One of the goals of the Estonian government is the digitalization of society, with the help of information and communications technologies (ICT). Tallinn’s Technopol science park is one of the biggest technological centres in all of the Baltic countries. Built in 2003 by the Republic of Estonia, the city of Tallinn and Tallinn University of Technology, it was designed to support the development of growing start-up companies. More than 200 companies, employing 4,000 people, including 14,000 students and 1,300 researchers, found their home under Technopol’s roof. The companies cover a vast number of different fields from ICT and health to medical and environmental technologies. It acts as an incubator for up-and-coming companies, giving new opportunities to over 30 start-ups. These kinds of projects are a huge encouragement for the congress industry, through which they are achieving major multiplier effects at their events.
Tradition and a Sprouting Revolution
Estonia’s booming fashion scene is closely tied to an ingenuity that proved helpful even in Soviet times, Scandinavian minimalism and the rich folk customs sourced from their past. One of the more prominent parts of their cultural heritage is undoubtedly the Estonian folk and choir singing. It’s been 27 years since the Baltic movement for independence started, called the “singing revolution”, and it is still going strong. Back then, two million people held hands and formed a 600-kilometre-long human chain that connected the three Baltic capitals – Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – in a symbolic act that demanded democracy and the end of Soviet authority.
The medieval core of Tallinn is home to numerous boutique shops of famous Estonian fashion designers. Ivo Nikkolo is one of the oldest and most renowned Baltic fashion brands and their first shop was opened by a group of brave designers back in 1994. Today their clothing for men and women has become a fashion statement across Scandinavia and can be found under the Baltika Group trademark. Estonia has proved that Scandinavian design stretches much further than just Denmark, Sweden and Finland. By joining its bigger and more famous neighbours, Estonian fashion now demands every modern design aficionado to have at least one piece of Estonian fashion or industrial design in their collection.
Tallinn also offers some surprises through an extremely rich culinary experience. It doesn’t offer just the traditional Estonian cuisine, but also Thai, Georgian, Indian, African, Greek, French, Japanese, Italian, Serbian, Russian, Turkish, and much else besides. Restaurant Olde Hansa, for example, is a special gastronomically-ethnical affair – candlelit and to the sounds of the medieval music, waiters dressed in traditional costumes graciously dance around the big wooden tables with hands full of earthen bowls and plates. It’s the signal that it’s time for an abundant Estonian feast: luxurious mushroom soup, exotic bites of salmon and wild boar, quail eggs, raw salmon, black bread, a spread of herbal cottage cheese and, last but not the least, the honey beer.
Tallinn Creative Hub
Tallinn Central Power Station was probably one of the most unusual congress venues in the past (1913-1979). After its 2015 renovation, the venue has become an exceptional congress and cultural centre that has this year been hosting most of the events connected to the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The specialty of the building is the building itself as it kept the majority of its industrial spirit, including the 16-metre high ceilings, tall chimney and gigantic water heaters built between 1948 and 1949. The revitalization of the building is a success story and today this is certainly one of the hottest concert, congress and culture venues in Europe. The Power Station got its cult status when the famous Russian movie director Andrei Tarkovsky filmed the movie Stalker there. The building today carries a combination of industrial and modern Estonian ‘feel’, as shown in the the furniture and interior design (Saaremaa spa chairs). The Tallinn Central Power Station undoubtedly represents the perfect example of how to revitalize abandoned industrial buildings.
Congress Vox Populi
Estonia’s congress offer has been glorified and the EU Presidency that Estonia took on from the UK this year has certainly added to this. As the former European Capital of Culture (2011), Tallinn has a well developed infrastructure and so could take over the Presidency without any issues. The engine of the local industry is the quality educational institutions, including the technical university, the largest English academy for film and media in Europe, and the Estonian academy of arts. The full congress facilities offer, which is rich and diverse, is tied together by the Tallinn Convention Bureau. The list consists of 55 providers, all the way from the largest hall, the Nordea Concert Hall, to the numerous hotels. The city also offers a surprising number of special venues – we counted at least 25, among them a few (Seaplane Harbour, Tallinn Airport Old Terminal, and some others) without any kind of comparison in the European area. Furthermore, the agency scene is also completely developed, with its many PCO, DMC and event agencies that are capable of producing the most demanding incentive events.
Given their renowned work ethic, Estonian people have acquired recognition through the wide use of the newest technologies. It also goes without saying that this is true for Tallinn’s congress industry too. With its diversity, breadth and top-notch organisation, the Tallinn congress industry can stand as an example to any destination operating with much larger funds. Estonia and Tallinn, after many years of an inferior position in the business, has today become one of the fastest growing congress destinations.
TALLINN INDIVIDUAL GRADES 2017
MTLG INDEX / 2017 EDITION
- The number of 4* and 5* category hotel rooms: 4,765
- The number of 4* and 5* category hotels: 45
- Banquet hall maximum capacity: 1,200
- The largest hall in the city (in m2): 3000
- Destination population: 444,885
- Maximum hall capacity in theatre style: 1,892
WHAT'S HOT 2017
1. Latitude59 / May 24 – 25, 2017
Latitude 59 is the flagship start-up & tech event of the world’s first digital society. In 2017 it had 2,000 participants, including 200 investors spanning from US to Japan and 150 start-ups spanning mostly from neighbouring Baltic, Nordic & CEE countries.
2. EAAP Annual Meeting 2017 / August 28 – September 1, 2017
The 68th Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) with main theme of Patterns of Livestock Production in the Development of Bioeconomy, builds on the success of previous EAAP meetings.
3. Connecting Europe Congress / September 21 – 22, 2017
The Connecting Europe Conference on 21 – 22 September 2017 in Tallinn, organised by the European Commission and the Estonian Presidency of the Council, with the objective to identify policy actions and financing solutions to invest in the Transport sector with the perspective of the post-2020 EU financial framework.
4. Tallinn Digital Summit / September 29, 2017
The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in cooperation with the President of the European Council and the European Commission, is organising the Tallinn Digital Summit to bring together EU heads of state or government on 29 September 2017.
5. The Startup Nations Summit / November 20 – 22, 2017
The Startup Nations Summit gathers a network of entrepreneurship policy shapers from around the world to identify, test and track innovative policy levers and smart public sector driven programmes for new and young businesses.
COMPARISON WITH THE REGION
In terms of congress needs, of the Baltic triplets Tallinn is probably the most picturesque and diverse. The city has gone through many historical changes, right through from the medieval salesmen and knights of the Teutonic order, to the protestant reformation, Swedish and Russian imperialism, turbulences of both Wars and then to the Soviet Union, before finally independence and the flourishing of its IT-industry and capitalism. All of these events today create a special culture that is the basis for development of a congress industry not lagging behind the competitive destinations. The congress industry is going through a real boom and Tallinn, with this year’s EU presidency, certainly deserves a strong round of applause.
Tourism: Tourism is a branch of the economy that develops fast. According to the “Tallinn 2025” strategic plan, the capital of Estonia could become a centre of festival and event tourism in the Baltic Sea region.
The Local Spirit: Vana Tallinn is a sweet liqueur, invented in the 60s. It is tasty whether drunk hot or cold, straight, in a cocktail or a coffee. With the use of natural ingredients, it presents a smooth but bitter flavour, with aromas of cinnamon, toffee, citrus and warm spices.