In July this year, Ines Antti-Poika, director of the Helsinki Convention Bureau, and her team invited us to join a fam trip simply entitled Highlights in HEL. From the very beginning, Ines had explained that the highlights of the trip were not going to be the usual visits to venues and hotels, but that it had been designed to showcase the unique combination of Helsinki’s hardware and software, the Helsinki people.
Helsinki was one of the first cities to brand itself as a congress destination years ago. The no-nonsense approach of Finland coupled with its unique taste for design and innovation made it a big success. But that was some time ago, it was high time to demonstrate how Helsinki has developed.
HEL’s Software: Finns are “CAN DO” people
“The Finns are known as doers, not as big talkers”, said the vibrant Sibelius’ 100 years organiser who had two piano players perform for us in the beautiful Helsinki Music Centre. But he himself was the confirmation of the exception! During our stay we met several enthusiastic people explaining us vividly how they and Helsinki are constantly on the move and rejuvenating themselves, no matter where they come from.
The dynamism of Atte Hujanen, of SLUSH, is infectious. Young and bright, he has created a renowned international conference with world leaders as speakers out of a “simple” start up event in less than three years. And he has done so to such an extent that even the congress hall, Messukeskus Helsinki, with years of experience, admitted that they have learnt a lot on how to make a hall into an exceptional space.
Another inspiring person was Timo Santala, who, with great flair, told us about the food scene that is blossoming in Helsinki. Of course you can find Michelin-star restaurants, but what is so special is the grass-root food actions to be found everywhere: street food bicycles, food trucks, food stalls on the street, you name it, Helsinki has it!
Academic research in Finland is also important and two researchers, Tuula Helander, of the HUCH (Helsinki University Central Hospital) Cancer Centre, and Sini Merikallio, of the FMI, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, presented their fields of activity and impressed us by their enthusiasm and seriousness.
Design Driven City
We often think of Finnish design as only object design, so brilliantly represented for example by the famous architect and industrial designer Alvar Aalto. But the Finns have developed design as an integrated part of life, design is to help shape a better life for people, especially life in cities. Sustainability is part of it as well, as more people are concerned about the ecological impact of human activity.
To illustrate this the service manager Jarno Ekström, of the Helsinki Public Transport Services explained how he has developed better services with design in the back of his mind. Laura Aalto of the International Design Foundation, who coordinated this session, opened our eyes to this - at least for me - new concept.
Software without good working hardware does not work, of course. So we met several Finns, each of them representing the Helsinki congress infrastructure. On the “cultural mile” of Helsinki, beautifully situated between sea and greenery, you will find the already mentioned Helsinki Music Centre, but also the Finlandia Hall, designed by Aalto, offering up to 1,700 seats in its biggest auditorium. The recently added beautiful Veranda with 2,200 m² makes this centre a genuine, lovely white and spacious venue.
Messukeskus is Helsinki’s expo and convention centre with an auditorium for up to 4,300 people and 40 fixed meeting rooms. Big or small, all kinds of events can be set up in this centre and for the foody lovers, more than 20 different restaurants are available. And do not forget that the staff can set up any kind of event you want! Looking for a setting with an historical background but with modern hardware? You will find it in Paasitorni, a combination of a congress centre, a hotel and restaurants of which the new floating restaurant pavilion is spectacular.
Hotels in HEL
Helsinki boasts many congress hotels and there are still new ones to come. To list a few: Scandic hotels with no less than six hotels, of which one is the Grand Marina Hotel in the waterfront, the Paasi Hotel adjoining the Paasitorni centre, Restel group with city hotels like the modern Indigo Hotel Helsinki-Boulevard which recently opened, Holiday Inn hotels, the Cumulus hotels, Sokotel Group representing the Sokos and the Radisson Blu hotels and Kämp Group hotels which focus on luxury and high-end services.
Creating special events
To say the least, Helsinki Convention Bureau moved us to the heart. Not only with their natural, warm host feeling but also with the events that they organised for us. In the Wanha Satama, a former customs warehouse, we were welcomed by the full hosting committee, all so exquisitely and elegantly dressed that we almost felt as if we were underdressed although we all did our best! But you cannot beat Finnish designers, can you? The evening was marked by a performance of a deaf and dumb singer Signmark who, with his sparkling eyes and joy of life, taught us that life is so much more than we think. It was an emotional moment.
Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.