‘Our doors and heart are open for the congress guests’, says Mika Akkanen, Manager of International Affairs, when talking about the hospitality of the City of Turku in the Von Troil Hall at Turku City Hall.
The City of Turku welcomes international congress guests warmly and with open arms, as international congresses of higher education institutions and organisations boost tourism and business in the region. The City wishes to express its gratitude and hospitality by organising a festive welcoming event for the guests.
‘Hospitality makes sense for the City, as at the same time we can market Turku as an attractive place.’ The aim is that a positive feeling and an impression of a pleasant city will remain among the guests.
The City of Turku usually extends its hospitality by arranging a banquet dinner to which congress organisers can apply for an invitation for their guests.
‘The event must be international or very significant in Finland. We are not able to receive guests from all possible kinds of associations’, says Akkanen.
‘Normally, the reception is always held here at City Hall, but if the premises are reserved for other use at the same time or if you want to arrange a dinner for the congress guests elsewhere, the City will serve a welcoming drink.’
Idyllic and enchanting Turku
The representatives of the City of Turku host around fifty welcoming receptions for congress guests every year. Usually, the hostess or host of the evening is selected from among the chairmen of the City Council and Board.
‘If possible, the City’s representative is chosen from a sector that matches the subject and theme of the event. Personally, I enjoyed for eight years a position that involved the opportunity to host receptions’, says the Greens’ city councillor Katri Sarlund with a smile.
As a biology teacher, Sarlund hosted the City's receptions especially for congress guests in the fields of medicine and natural sciences.
‘I always studied the congress programme and planned my welcome speech accordingly. I described briefly what kind of city Turku is. At the point when I said “City of Turku”, I noticed a wry smile on the listeners’ lips’, Sarlund laughs.
‘I explained that on the Finnish scale, Turku is a large city, although for those coming from abroad, it may rather seem like a small village.’
When Sarlund asked about the previous congress hosts, the replies she frequently received were large cities, such as London or Singapore.
‘Turku and the local congress organisers compete in the major leagues, but the guests have always been satisfied and delighted. I had the impression that they would be happy to come here again. And that’s what hospitality is all about – leaving an imprint on memory.’
Local food on the buffet table
As a public official, Mika Akkanen has frequently served as a representative and host at the City’s welcoming receptions. Although efforts are made to avoid standard speeches, congress guests are always briefly informed about the rich history of City Hall. Small groups may even be given a guided tour.
‘City Hall has an interesting history that dates back to the 19th century. This used to be Finland's first Seurahuone restaurant, and a high-quality restaurant continues to operate in the premises, keeping up the same standards. In other words, the food is really good’, says Akkanen and commends the staff of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs restaurant.
Akkanen says that welcome speeches are deliberately kept short, as otherwise the guests will start looking impatiently at the attractive buffet table. The banquet menu favours seasonal delicacies and local food.
‘Local food enlivens the occasion and serves as food for conversation when, for example, you have the opportunity to explain that the potatoes and asparagus come from the nearby farms. We deliberately serve vegetable-dominated food, because we want to play our part in supporting sustainable development and ethical values.’
Tanja Raunio, Food and Drinking Culture Ambassador of Turku, has recently planned a non-alcohol welcome drink with the name “Fortuna”, which makes an apt reference to City Hall’s past.
‘The building was fortunate to survive the Great Fire of Turku back in the day’, says Akkanen.
The reception of City Hall can accommodate up to 200 guests, but the Von Troil Hall is also a nice place for a smaller group. For congress guests, a dinner provides an informal opportunity to network and discuss interesting topics in the field. The City’s representatives often engage in profound discussions.
‘The occasions are highly rewarding for the hosts and hostesses. The discussions address themes and perspectives that are not normally taken up in the course of regular work duties or ordinary life’, says Akkanen.
Sarlund agrees. In addition to the natural sciences she is already familiar with, she has engaged in dinner discussions of highly interdisciplinary congresses.
‘Perhaps the most extraordinary was the congress on life after death, whose participants included leading experts from doctors to gnome researchers. All in all, the topics have been super interesting and inspiring. I often find myself thinking that, my goodness, if only the rest of the people of Turku could hear these ideas’, says Sarlund.
In response to her suggestion, public lectures have in fact been started in Turku in connection with congresses, popularising the subject areas to a wider audience.
‘I hope that the piloting of public lectures will continue so that people interested in science will have the opportunity to enjoy the new inspiring ideas. At the same time, this will strengthen Turku’s position as a science city’, says Sarlund.
Akkanen also points out that universities cannot remain isolated islands, but instead must be part of the local culture and life. He praises the close cooperation between the City of Turku and higher education institutions.
‘The city’s hospitality and the receptions arranged for congress guests are also a way to extend our thanks to the scientific community for their joint development effort in the Turku region’, says Akkanen.
Text: Merja Kallikari
Photo: Mika Okko