The Tall Ships Races sailing vessel event gathered nearly a hundred vessels in the summer of 2017 to the harbours of the Baltic Sea. Turku was once again one of the hosting ports and draw a record number of audience. The event also had a significant economic impact on the region.

Almost a hundred large sailing vessels left the River Aura at the end of July, heading for Klaipeda. This marked the end of the year’s largest public event in Turku: over the preceding four days, 544 000 visitors in total had attended The Tall Ships Races event, making it a new record for Turku. This was the fifth time that Turku acted as a hosting port for the event.

The Tall Ships Races gave Turku an opportunity to be profiled as a joyful and capable event host and as an environmentally friendly maritime city. A survey conducted after the event on the spending of visitors demonstrates that major events also have an important economic impact on their organising cities.The economic impact of the event for the Turku region was between 27 and 30 million euros in total.

According to the visitor survey, conducted by an independent research company, 97 per cent of respondents who had visited the event found the event fairly or very good and 96 per cent would recommend if for others. The highest marks were given for the atmosphere, event areas and safety as well as order supervision.

Over 1 100 people in total responded to the survey. The survey was based on a random sample and only 52 per cent of respondents lived in Turku while others lived elsewhere in Finland. This demonstrates that The Tall Ships Races event raises interest extensively around Finland and visitors are prepared to travel to Turku for the event even from further away. The large number of visitors coming from other areas was reflected on an increased demand for services within the Turku region.

From the point of view of the total budget, contracts signed with collaboration partners have a key role. The number of contracts signed nationally was 21 and the number of contracts signed locally was 35. The total value of contracts was 1.42 million euros where the share of direct financial support was 415 000 euros and the share of barter was 520 000 euros. The remaining share consisted of profit from places of sales and restaurant provisions. There were approximately 320 places of sales in total on the riverside during the event. The budget of the City of Turku for the event was 655 000 euros.

Experience as an organiser helped with execution

With the event held in 2017, Turku became the city that has hosted The Tall Ships Races more often than any other city in the Baltic Sea region. Through experience, Turku has been able to optimise the harbour services required for the sailing vessel event, the programme concept, the crew services and opportunities provided by the event for the public and the business sector. This has also been internationally acknowledged and Turku has been asked to present its operating concept elsewhere.

The unique atmosphere of Turku stems from the fact that vessels can be brought right to the city centre. All vessels are moored in a very compact area on both sides of the River Aura, so all services are found nearby and the atmosphere of the event is intense and lively.

Development of the riverbank changes the cityscape significantly

When Turku hosted the event for the first time in 1996, the banks of the River Aura looked very different from how they look today. Shipbuilding that had been in the area for centuries had moved to a new shipyard and the riverbanks had become waste land. The riverbanks have been subsequently renovated for residential and recreational use and the audience of the event was, for the first time, evenly split on both sides of the river.

The development of the riverbanks is still ongoing – one example of the process is the maritime residential areas and promenades currently being constructed on the eastern bank. Simultaneously, a modern residential area with wooden houses is being built on the western bank of the river, in the close neighbourhood of the Turku Castle, and a large complex of new buildings is being built in the prison area of Kakola. When completed, these projects will shift the focus of the city centre towards the sea and the downstream of the river. Turku will be a maritime city, even more so than before.

Social media channels leading communication

Altogether 120 journalists were accredited in Turku, including the most important national media and media specialised in boating. International journalists arrived from Britain, Germany, Russia, Sweden and South Korea, for instance.

The event in Turku was advertised in advance on television, on radio stations and in newspapers. In addition, websites offered up-to-date information in three languages.

Special effort was put into channels of the social media and this was reflected on their popularity. The Facebook pages of the event gained more than 20 000 likes and overall, updates on the page reached as many as 800 000 users during the event week. In addition to the event’s own channels, posts on the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of the City of Turku reached tens of thousands of users. The total financial value of the attained media exposure was 1.17 million euros.

Text: Jarkko Virtanen, Deputy Mayor of Turku, Chairman of The Tall Ships Races Port Committee Turku, Finland
Photo: Olli Sulin