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Interview with Meeli Jaaksoo, who has been the head of Tallinn Convention Bureau since its creation 20 years ago. At the time, it was the first convention bureau in the Baltic countries, which lead the way in modernizing the region’s international conference industry. During her time as a convention manager, Meeli has helped the city of Tallinn develop into the vibrant international conference destination we know today. Due to her vast knowledge of the meetings industry, she is currently one of the most experienced convention professionals in Estonia. With 27 years of experience in the conference industry, Meeli has grown the TCB from an idea she had into a world-class conference organization and destination.

“We will keep our fingers crossed that 2022 is when international events find their way back to Tallinn”

Q: How badly has COVID-19 affected the meetings industry in your country?

Tourism, including conference tourism, has shown a stable yearly growth trend in Estonia. This is a direct result of the countries’ marketing work to put the little known small northern European country on the leisure- and business tourism map. Today we, like all the rest, have found ourselves in an unprecedented situation. Estonia is not an exception to the havoc caused to the meeting industry around the world. Our tourism export numbers fell 63% and reached 763 million euros (in 2019, the estimate was around 2 billion euros). In 2020 there were -72% foreign visitors, -74% fewer travellers passed through Tallinn Airport, -62% passengers at Port of Tallinn. Business travels fell from 5% to 3%. The number of conference events in Tallinn fell around -52%, whereas international events (with at least 20% foreign delegates) took a nosedive of -82% (with 82% of the ones that did happen, taking place during the first quarter).

But to remain positive – we are all in the same situation, and no one has a competitive edge. The crisis has been an excellent learning experience and a breeding ground for new creative ideas and solutions. The online and hybrid events are filling the void and forcefully shaping the future of our industry. The online component of events is here to stay with many positive outcomes for all parties involved.

Q: Which market segments will be the first to return to Tallinn, and when do you think live events will return?

Tallinn is a perfect destination for corporate and association events, with Tallinn reaching 41st position on ICCA ranking in 2019 and 65% of all the events in the city being corporate (2019). Our recovering strategy is to focus on geographically close markets at first and keep an eye on the easing of travel restrictions. We expect the corporate segment to return faster than association events. But at the same time, the association event planning usually has a longer time span, therefore our marketing activities and messages will involve both. Regarding the return of live events – we hope that we will begin to feel some relief (at least on a local scale) during summer, and hopefully, the pace will pick-up by autumn. We will keep our fingers crossed that 2022 is the year when normalcy starts to emerge, and international events will find their way back to Tallinn.

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Photo Credit: Tallinn Convention Bureau, Kaupo Kalda

Q: What differentiates Tallinn in the post-covid era and makes it attractive to the meetings market?

Face-to-face and hybrid events can be successfully held in new and smaller destinations which Tallinn is. The Achilles’ heel of Tallinn has always been the lack of a multi-purpose convention centre with a capacity to host thousands of delegates. For coming years, it would seem, that this will no longer be an issue. With the rise of online platforms, combined with travel restrictions and reshaping of the flight industry, we expect that international travel for conferences will take time to reach its former glory. Therefore, Tallinn’s small to medium scale unique venues will be suitable for many events. Especially while combined with our high tech “unicorn” companies who specialize in organizing high quality live and hybrid conferences on an international scale (ie. Global Virtual Santa Claus Congress 2020 with more than 8500 participants).

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Photo Credit: Global Virtual Solutions

“Our aim has been to find ways to collaborate and build on that synergy with other destinations”

Q: In your opinion, what type of marketing will be the most effective after the corona crisis?

With the ever-growing digitalization and influx of information, marketing will need to become more precise in order to reach the right people with the right message at the right time. We will need to target decision-makers in places where they are comfortable. As the meetings industry is currently going through a generational exchange we will need to keep in mind where and how the decision-makers search for information and how they would like to be approached. Our main channels are visittallinn.ee, our social media platforms, but also email marketing with regular news, as this is what we have found to work for us at the moment.

Q: Do you believe that after the crisis, second-tier destinations will come out as winners?

This crisis will provide possibilities for small and medium-sized destinations as it has levelled the ground – no one has been left unaffected. With the expected downsizing of events, organizers will look for new destinations that have been previously pushed aside due to their lack of capacity. The pros for choosing a smaller destination are a stronger alliance between private and public sectors, a unique visitor experience with a local vibe for delegates, personal touch, compactness etc.

Q: Who is Tallinn’s biggest competitor?

We have never thought about other destinations as competitors – which they surely must be. Our aim has been to find ways to collaborate and build on that synergy. We have had several successful events that have been shared between Tallinn and Helsinki, but also Tallinn and Tartu (the second largest city of Estonia). We believe that destinations should back each other and find more ways to collaborate.

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Photo Credit: Tallinn Convention Bureau, Kaupo Kalda

“With the ever-growing digitalization and influx of information, marketing will need to become more precise”

Q: In what ways can Tallinn Convention Bureau help meeting planners?

Tallinn Convention Bureau (TCB) is the best starting point when planning an event in Tallinn – with a wide range of free services and assistance, we will help along the way to a successful event. We have more than 200 partners ranging from venues to online and hybrid event organizers. We know our market, and with our two decades of spanning experience, we can surely help you find the best of what Tallinn has to offer. Our focus is now shifting towards safety and sustainability topics. We have begun the GDS-Index evaluation process and are working on the city’s green event journey guide for planners.

Q: Where would you like to see Tallinn in two years’ time?

It is safe to travel and tourists, including business travellers, are back! Face-to-face meetings are happening and are using online event possibilities more readily. Tallinn has won the European Green Capital nomination. Estonians keep using their out-of-the-box thinking ability, and the crisis has not slowed down the Estonian initiative but highlighted their strengths and lean businesses. In my opinion, collaboration and brand reputation can only be built on intellectual capital.

Q: Regarding events – High Touch or High Tech?

Firstly, it seems that these two approaches are pitted against each other, but they should not be, as they work best in symbiosis.

High Touch as a personal element (emotions, feelings etc) is never-ending, but with high-tech new tools, the possibilities to reach more potential customers are more varied than ever before. Bringing them on as real customers and offering many benefits for the event.

High Tech is no longer a magic trick for event planners. This is just a new tool that helps to rethink travelling, including business travels. Organizations would like to be High-Tech, but they will have to ensure that their people prefer to be on High-Touch as well. This combination is the best opportunity. As we can probably all testify, with a year into this crisis, nothing can replace the all-human physical connections.

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PERSONAL QUESTIONS FOR MEELI

Q: What will we be discussing over coffee at the same time next year?

Surely, by next year, sharing ideas over coffee in person is once again possible?! We will look back on what has ensued from the crisis from Tallinn’s point of view. We will see how Tallinn has enforced its position and image, as the perfect destination for versatile events. There are new investments from the city directed towards the meetings sector. The new trends for meetings are green economy and high-tech solutions, where sustainability has become more of an industry standard.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for events in these tough times? Do you have a favourite event agency or role model?

For me, nature and silence are the best inspiration during this particular (but not tough) time.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life? (music, books, nature…)

Firstly, I would say, my loved ones, as they hold the most important role in my life. Music and sports have inspired me for as long as I can remember – especially jazz and ice skating. I love reading – I even have my own library at home. And finally, my garden, where I grow my own healthy food, which I love to share with family and friends. This altogether is the list of my life’s vital vitamins, which bring me fulfilment and happiness.

GET IN TOUCH

Tallinn City Tourist Office and Convention Bureau
Kaarli pst1 / Roosikrantsi 2
Tallinn, 10119

T: +372 640 4414
E: convention@tallinnlv.ee
W: www.visittallinn.ee

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