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Impressions that last

Certain things need to be experienced physically – either because they are unique in the world (such as Gothenburg’s archipelago) or because the truly great ideas are only born when people with completely different perspectives come together at international conferences.

Annika Hallman: Gothenburg is like a mini-metropolis, where everything is within walking distance – the great food, the culture, the amusement park, the accommodation and the actual conference facilities. Photo: Peter Kvarnström/Göteborg & Co

The timing is really bad for an interview with Annika Hallman, Director of Göteborg & Co Möten/Gothenburg Convention Bureau. The interview was due to cover both the international sustainability awards that have been raining down on Gothenburg as a tourist destination and the year in tourism 2019, which broke records for the number of overnight stays (5 million), generating revenue of SEK 33.9 billion.

Then came the coronavirus. Even so, it is clear that companies in the tourism sector and the collaborations that have turned Gothenburg into one of the world’s most sustainable meeting destinations represent a large and important cluster, the existence of which we tend to take for granted.

“The conditions may have changed, but we will reap the rewards of the collaborations between the city, the academic community and the business sector that we have built up over the years. The most important thing is that we retain our belief in the future”, says Annika Hallman.

What is remarkable is that those attractions that have brought millions of visitors to Gothenburg originated in historically challenging times. Svenska Mässan was the country’s first trade fair, and was inaugurated in Gothenburg on 8 July 1918. This was a dramatic period in Swedish history, with a shortage of foodstuffs, growing class divisions and social unrest. Just a few years later, in 1923, Gothenburg celebrated its 300th anniversary (although this had been delayed by two years, due to the after-effects of the First World War), featuring a jubilee exhibition and the opening of the Liseberg amusement park.

For more than a century, Gothenburg has boldly invested in conferences, fairs and tourism. Why has this been so important for a city the size of Gothenburg?

“The meeting between world-leading specialists both refines and disseminates knowledge, which is of long-term benefit to the city. The contacts that are made and the networks that are created develop the communities in which they take place. They attract business, skills, talents, students and researchers”, explains Annika Hallman.

This global exchange is a necessary precondition for ensuring the quality of universities. Gothenburg’s scientific conferences bring together world-leading research and the business sector, occasionally incorporating public activities in the community, such as in 2018, when a large conference concerning strokes not only attracted the world’s most eminent researchers, but they visited schools to present lectures and a ‘Run Against Strokes’ fun-run was also held in the city.

“Gothenburg has many research-savvy companies who benefit from an expanded and valuable network of contacts by means of conferences. For example, there have been delegates who have been so enchanted by Gothenburg that they subsequently chose to move here.”

Attracting major conferences to a certain destination requires many years of work, and also places demands on both collaboration and the devotion of many hours spent outside of regular working hours by local meeting ambassadors. This is very familiar to the professor and consultant Helena Brisby, who, together with professor emeritus Björn Rydevik and professor Adad Baranto, comprises the local organisation committee for Eurospine 2021 – an international conference on the examination and treatment of spinal disease and injuries.

“An international conference provides the opportunity to listen to and collaborate with doctors, researchers and representatives of industry from all around the world who are at the very forefront of their specialist fields. This produces days filled with creativity, which generate an energy that lives on long afterwards.

“Of course, it is even more fun when the conference comes here! Gothenburg is a great city for interaction. International conferences of this pedigree can generate concrete ideas for everyday clinical procedures, while also creating opportunities to meet people with whom you can plan new studies, which, in turn, can drive forwards the development of healthcare provision.”

Without wishing to belittle the difficulties currently being experienced by many companies, hotels and restaurants, Annika Hallman feels that she works in the world’s best industry.

“It is incredibly rewarding to have one foot in the academic world and the other in the business community, while working in a city with international connections. It’s like experiencing a triple-helix every day!”

A manifestation of faith in the future.Albert Einstein gave his Nobel speech at Liseberg in 1923, following some of the most turbulent years in world history. Photo: Liseberg

This article was originally printed in Magasin Göteborg 2020. Magasin Göteborg is published by the Trade and Industry Group at Göteborg & Co and Business Region Göteborg. The theme of Magasin Göteborg 2020 is ”Sustainable growth – for everyone”.

Text by Ulrica Segersten. Translation by Språkservice.