Even though the pandemic made international conferences virtual for almost two years, in spring 2022 it was possible to organise face-to-face meetings again. The European Conference on Mobility Management (ECOMM) was organised on 31 May – 2 June 2022. The Conference circulating in Europe and related to mobility management was organised in Finland for the first time, hosted by the City of Turku.

The Project Manager and the main organiser Stella Aaltonen, who is specialised in urban mobility solutions in the City of Turku, is an experienced organiser of international conventions. She started the application process for the ECOMM in 2019. The organisation of the Conference had clear goals: The development of mobility and traffic in the Turku region towards a carbon neutral future and the year 2029 when Turku celebrates its 800th anniversary. The purpose of organising the Conference was to inspire the participants to implement sustainable mobility actions in their work.

- From the start, it has been our goal, with the help of the Conference, to motivate our own people and local partners in the work that we are doing with, for example, the pedestrian centre, electric mobility and the development of walking and cycling, Stella Aaltonen says.

- We have a strong goal: to reach a 66 per cent sustainable mobility share in the region.
Stella Aaltonen says that the Conference was postponed for two years because of the pandemic. In spring 2022, many international associations were still investing in the hybrid implementation of the Conference. However, it was decided that ECOMM was only going to be organised as a live event.

- By Easter, we realised that, even though distance participation was first offered, we did not get sign-ups. The virtual participation would have also increased expenses and the budget was limited.  In addition, the pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis that started at the end of the sign-up period influenced the attendee amounts to some extent. Eventually, however, 180 participants arrived in Turku from as many as 22 different countries. The most distant participants are from Japan and the United States. Approximately one third of the delegates are Finnish. Most of the participants work within mobility development in cities and municipalities, as well as for the state, but some also work in businesses and consulting companies in the field, Stella Aaltonen says.

From the outset, ambitious goals were set to build a network of partners for ECOMM 2022.  EPOMM, the European umbrella organisation, was responsible for the calling procedure of the main speakers, but the main responsibility for the content and also the implementation was taken on by the City of Turku. First, a large local consortium was established that was introduced in the application. The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom, University of Turku, Turku University of Applied Sciences, The Regional Council of Southwest Finland and The Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Southwest Finland agreed to be partners. Companies that are closely tied with the development of the field such as IGL-Technologies and Sitowise, specialised in smart technical solutions of Nordic urban development, also agreed to be partners.

- Sourcing sponsors is a challenging task in a city organisation. It could have also been outsourced to a company, but we did not want to undermine the content of the most important themes of the Conference with a commercial approach. It was also challenging that some of the international sponsors pulled out of the project when the Ukrainian crisis started, Stella Aaltonen says.

ECOMM2022 / Turun Kaupunginteatteri / Turku City Theatre

The ECOMM 2022 was realised as three parallel sessions at the Turku City Theatre, by the Aura River. From the beginning, brainstorming the use of the varied technology and stage structures in the recently renovated Turku City Theatre relied on the experience and professionalism of Set Designer Jani Uljas. The guests were able to enjoy programme surprises and, during the breaks, experienced, for instance, a Sibelius violin concerto and circus art. A part of the programme was organised by students.

ECOMM2022 / Elektra

The evening programmes in conferences are important get-togethers where people network, meet colleagues and discuss current issues. The first evening programme of the ECOMM was the City of Turku reception. It was organised on the most stunning public transport vehicle, the hybrid ferry Elektra, that normally transports cars in the Parainen and Nauvo archipelagos. The Elektra ride was offered by conference partners The Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Southwest Finland and Finnferries. Catering tendered by the City of Turku was ordered from Unica restaurants and the structures in the windy conditions on the ferry deck were provided by programme office Tapahtumallinen Oy together with their partner IdeaGroup. Public Relations Coordinator Sari Haavisto was responsible for the planning and organisation of the evening party. Her long work experience includes organising several Tall Ships Race sailing ship events.

ECOMM2022 / Elektra

- The weather was very cold in the reception evening and very windy, but we were prepared for this. We reduced the amount of food serving tents and invested in anchoring them with concrete weights. The guests knew about the conditions of a Finnish summer evening and single-use rain equipment was also available, Sari Haavisto says.

- The feedback has been very positive, and the evening was a success. The accordion player and the wooden benches we organised suited the archipelago theme very well. However, from the consumption of red wine, we noticed that participants sought warmth, Haavisto says laughing.

ECOMM2022 / EduCity

Unica served as our partner also at the dinner hosted by Turku University of Applied Sciences in the newly-built EduCity facility in Kupittaa. The dinner had a fish and vegetable emphasis that the Conference team had selected. Unica’s new food market idea got the guests divide into several serving stations and there were no queues. The food got many complements. While they were dancing, the guests were able to rest on so called “Taidon portaat” (stairs of skills) in the large space. The event also presented a modern video installation by Arttu Nieminen called Finlandia.

- Unica's food market idea is truly a ready product. I am grateful for the inspiring attitude and good co-operation of their staff, Stella Aaltonen says.

- We delivered leftover food from both the Turku City Theatre and EduCity events to Operaatio Ruokakassi ry. We have had good experiences of their volunteer work in the past ten years.

ECOMM2022 / Unica

The guests of the ECOMM had the opportunity to get to know several Turku region destinations, united by the themes of traffic and mobility. The USER-Chi project introduced electric mobility solutions around Turku in an electric bus. In addition, in the laboratory of Turku University of Applied Sciences, participants could learn about the development of solar energy technology and building an electric race car, for instance.

- We considered sustainable development solutions in all planning choices of the Conference. For example, Tavata Global Oy from Oulu implemented the Conference event application that had an integrated public transport QR code ticket. The modern system of FÖLI makes it possible that only stepping on the bus is charged, which means that we did not need to buy tickets for all participants in advance, Stella Aaltonen says.

The delegate bags provided by the City of Turku and the Convention Bureau of Visit Turku also received thanks. The bags with the slogan “Urban Legends since 1229” are sown in the City of Turku rehabilitation activity workshops called Työpiste and their fabrics are colourful surplus pieces from the textile industry.

- We also ordered the delegate name tag ribbons from Työpiste. They were made from recycled men's shirt fabrics and the had a security lock on them, Stella Aaltonen says. She hopes that other conference organisers in Turku would use the same solutions.

- Ten years ago, vegetarian,vegan food and even gluten-free diets were challenging to organise at congresses. Even then, Operaatio Ruokakassi ry was in operation at a great capacity and food waste was distributed efficiently, Stella Aaltonen says.

- In the future, I hope that meeting and conference organisers would be able to find these multiple Turku-based best practices and supplementary programmes easier. Destinations suitable for expert visits in Turku are at such a high international level that they should be collected in a pool, making them easy to order. Expert visits should be available by theme and competence area, and as modules with pre-trained, committed experts proficient in languages presenting them, Stella Aaltonen ponders.

- In Turku, there are several excellent sustainable urban development and building targets, these could also become programme pieces for sale for the organisers of conferences in various fields.

Text: Sari Ruusumo
Photos: Esko Keski-Oja and Roni Lehti