Cross- border international sports tourism conference

“Vector-Sport” together with its partners from Russia and Finland organized first International sports tourism conference on December 11, 2020. The event was held in online format with the participation of Russian and Finnish sports organizations, governmental organizations, sport clubs, sport scientists, students, and business community.

Tourism and sports are two social phenomena in the 21st century that mobilize millions of people all over the world. They are two sectors that complement each other and share common goals such as fostering understanding and closer relations between people of different cultures and lifestyles, and contributing to the promotion of peace among nations. Together, tourism and sport also represent the most powerful economic driving forces of society today with enormous potential to generate a very wide range of economic spin-offs. However, the pandemic of COVID- 19 brought new agenda into the international sports tourism that had to adapt to serious challenges of keeping the industry alive, supporting business, and taking care about safety for local and international travelers.

Thus, the conference focused on the discussion of cross -border sports tourism between Russia and Finland, the challenges of COVID -19 as well as its impact on sports tourism at the international level, trends and opportunities of sports tourism in the global perspective, as well as business development in sports tourism and its internalization after pandemic.

The conference was planned as 3 sessions event which discussed different sports tourism aspects with the participation of leading international experts in this field. First session opened the discussion about cross-border tourism between Russia and Finland, the impact of the COVID-19, peculiarities of local markets developments and post – pandemic recovery strategies. Here, we had such experts as Mirka Rahman, Director of Tourism, Marketing and Customer Service Tourism & Events, Brand, Services from Lappeenranta Finland.  Lappeenranta was recently awarded as the green city of Finland, setting national trend for sustainability in tourism. Eco tourism as local trend revealed the desire of travelers to be closer to the nature, explore the local beauties and cultural sites, preserve it to the next generations.  

Evidently, the COVID – 19 restrictions stimulated the development of local tourism and summer tourism products were actively booked by local customers in both countries. However, the long – term tourism recovery strategies of Lappeenranta and St. Petersburg consider the importance of both countries’ tourists as the key customer groups.  The need for ongoing cooperation between Russian and Finnish colleagues will support the smooth recovery of tourism after COVID-19. Therefore, the ongoing cross-border cooperation projects in tourism can create necessary conditions for networking, ideas exchange and synergies of experts that could move the field forward.

St. Petersburg Committee for Tourism development presented the marketing program for promoting Saint- Petersburg as a safe city. A unique marketing program was implemented to promote Saint Petersburg as a safe city is called “Petersburg hospitality”, which became an important step for the restart of the industry.  In accordance with the Decree of the Government of Saint Petersburg № 121, responsible representatives of the hospitality sector received a unique QR-code with the “Safe Travels SPb“stamp informing the consumer of tourist services about compliance with all necessary protocols and requirements to ensure a safe stay in the city.

Participants of the safe travels program are hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, tour operators and tour agencies, resorts and health centers, museums, shopping malls, tour guides, public transport.

The Tourist Information Bureau of St. Petersburg presented the cross- border cooperation project “Tourist corridor “St. Petersburg-Saima”, aimed at stimulating tourist infrastructure, varying tourist demand among new target groups, increasing the tourist flow between St. Petersburg and the Lake Saimaa region, joint promotion of the region for other countries.

In the second session, speakers made presentations on the topic of sports tourism as a global phenomenon and its development in border regions. Thus, Mikhailov Alexander, President of the public organization Regional Federation of Sports Tourism of St. Petersburg, presented sports tourism as type of sport that combines the admiration for travel and a sport. This sport actively develops in St. Petersburg with the series of regular competitions, sports events organized in Russia and abroad. Before the borders were closed, St. Petersburg athletes visited Finland for sports tourism purposes.  The Federation of Sports Tourism of St. Petersburg supported the idea to collaborate with Finnish partners on the development of cross- border sports tourism and could suggest new initiatives for the sustainable cooperation.  Violetta Silivanenko presented “Vector- Sport” cross- border cooperation project which was being implemented as part of the South-East Finland-Russia cross-border cooperation program for 2014-2020, aimed to promote the potential of our regions in the development of sports tourism and business cooperation.

The final session of the conference was focused on small and medium-sized enterprises, where the CEOs of business companies from Russia and Finland revealed the concept of sports tourism as a form of cross-border economic activity and international business. The trends in sales, marketing, and digitalization in sports tourism, as well as the experience of organizing the sports events were discussed. Another aspect of discission was devoted to rapidly growing ecotourism and how it brought the agenda of sustainability in tourism.

The first sports tourism conference became a good starting point for building new forms of cross- border cooperation with extended agenda for sustainability in tourism, support for business, introducing research and new formats of education opportunities, as well as involving different stakeholder groups for the open dialogue.