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Baltic Sea and Latvian Tourism Forum – key takeaways


Over 400 travel industry professionals gathered in Riga for the historic, first ever Joint Baltic Sea and Latvian Tourism Forum under the slogan “On the edge of change”. The forum addressed the concepts of “creation versus preservation” and “digitalisation versus preservation” or how to embrace techniques and technologies to ensure a sustainable future for the Baltic Sea region as a tourism destination.

The forum featured talks by inspiring figures from around the world, and we bring you a summary of their presentations.

On creativity and motivation to change

Shocked by the amount of plastic soup in the world’s oceans, former marketeer Marius Smit founded Plastic Whale – the world’s first plastic fishing company. By developing the perfect idea, crafting the perfect message and reaching the right people, Smit received support from industry experts that helped him realise his initiative – plastic fishing boats in Amsterdam’s canals. One thing he didn’t foresee was how popular they’d become as a tourist attraction.

The concept is now spreading worldwide, and Plastic Whale has begun building furniture from plastic waste. Smit’s key tip is to start doing!

Creation VS preservation panel

Moa Bjornson saw huge potential in the tiny island of Traena in the Norwegian Sea. In her work to develop it, she’s driven by the idea that small communities and rural areas can also be innovators, not just a showcase of what life used to be like. In Traena, they now organise a festival to celebrate the bad weather, and invite creative thinkers to spend time in the island’s residency programme.

Dagnija Balode of H2E design studio recommends placing local heroes in the limelight when developing new visitor attractions. The studio has transformed old industrial heritage buildings and local museums into 21st century visitor attractions through smart design solutions and never forgetting about the human side of the story.

Sustainable tourism cooperation post 2020 panel

The panelists reminded the audience that tourism destinations do recover after terror attacks, economic difficulties and political uncertainties. It’s important to plan in the longterm and apply data-driven marketing solutions.

Although projects have proven to be successful, they are limited in time and, often, once the project concluded, action stops as well, hence macro-regional strategies are recommended.

Joint education programmes could also help regions in their sustainability efforts. They could ensure the preservation of skills, as well as lead to heterogenous quality standards.

Bring creativity in to preserving urban areas

Anthropologist and urbanist Viesturs Celmins highlights that many iconic buildings don’t deliver the expected growth. 78% of new builds exceed their budget and aren’t completed in time. Sheffield’s infamous National Centre for Popular Music is an example. Yet such projects can also be successful, such as the Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw.

In the words of Celmins “money is spent with so much optimism but so little hard facts”. Research is vital before investing in such projects. You should think about whether the idea will solve any pain for any group in society.

Travelling and technologies in evolution, and the age of “smart tourism”

Martin Gull and Emma Hakansson told the story of Helsinborg’s move from bricks-and-mortar tourism information centres to a one-stop app. They recommend having a vision but taking baby steps towards it since none of us know what tourists will want and where technology will be in 5 years’ time.

Digital media channels and how to get them right

Kash Bhattacharya, Janicke Hansen and Lelde Benke concluded that the key to success is not forgetting the human at the centre of it all. Fundamentally, online success will be determined by the quality and originality of your story. And you should know your audience as best as possible.

Digitality as the future of place branding

Marija Rucevska looked into ways in which you can cause a place to become the “next big thing”. Can it be done through branding or doing?

Undeniably, shifts happen. For example, San Francisco became such a hub that rents increased to such an extent that many can’t afford anymore. Where’s next? Could we talk about an “Amber valley” in the Baltic Sea region? Many questions still need to be addressed, such as ways to attract top talent and limit bureaucracy.