At the request of Enterprise Estonia, Kantar Emor surveyed foreign tourists who visited the conferences of international associations that took place in Tallinn and Tartu. The sample included conferences, which lasted at least two days, had at least 100 participants, and at least 40% of participants had come from a foreign country. The conferences took place between August 2017 and September 2018. The survey was responded by a total of 799 foreign tourists from 20 different conferences.
The survey aimed at determining the travel behaviour of conference tourists, their preferences, costs incurred, and estimates to Estonia as the destination and to Tartu and Tallinn as the conference venues. The survey was carried out in cooperation with the Estonian Convention Bureau (ECB) and Tallinn Convention Bureau.
The surveyed target group is one small part of the entire conference market of Estonia. Therefore, the results cannot be generalised to the average international conference organised in Estonia. The results can only be generalised with regard to the specified surveyed target group – the conferences of international associations with a large number of participants and long duration.
Of foreign visitors of the conferences, 4/5 came from Europe – most of them travelled to Estonia from United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, and France. The majority (59%) of conference tourists were in the age range of 31–50. The vast majority of conference tourists came to Estonia alone, only 12% of delegates travelled to Estonia with one, and 4% with several companions.
Expenditure in Estonia
The average expenditure of a conference visitor was 190 euros per night in Estonia. At the same time, this sum is slightly higher in case of conferences held in Tallinn (193 euros) than those held in Tartu (167 euros). Of the total sum, 38% was spent on accommodation, 30% on participation fee, 12% on eating out, 8% on shopping, and 11% on other services (local transport, tours, entertainment, etc.). While almost all respondents spent on accommodation and eating out, 45% spent on entertainment and only 16% on tours. In Tartu, expenditure was lower than in Tallinn, as the three most commonly mentioned cost factors, such as the conference participation fee, accommodation, and eating out, were more favourable in Tartu in average terms.
Most delegates (71%) stayed in the conference city for three to five nights. Only 16% of delegates spent additional nights in other locations of Estonia outside the conference hours, and most of them did so for one night. A total of 32% of participants at the conferences in Tallinn also visited other locations of Estonia (with and without an overnight stay). The same figure with regard to Tartu was even higher – 60% (the participants mostly visited Tallinn). Other popular destinations included Lahemaa National Park, Pärnu, and Saaremaa.
One-fifth of delegates took part in tours offered by the conference organisers. A total of 44% were not interested in participating in tours, 14% of the cases did not include tours offered by the organiser, and 20% of respondents were not aware whether such option was offered to the conference participants. Of those who attended the conferences in Tartu, 25% participated in tours; in Tallinn, the same figure was 21%.
During their free time, the participants mainly visited eating places (restaurants, pubs, etc.) and were independently engaged in sightseeing (both over 80% of respondents). A total of 46% of delegates went shopping, and 42% visited museums or exhibitions. A quarter visited nature and 15% joined the conference with the meeting of business partners.
Information about Estonia was mostly found on the conference website (72% of respondents), the websites of www.visittallinn.ee and www.visitestonia.com were used less (32% and 29%, respectively). A total of 14% of respondents did not search for information online.
Accommodation in Estonia
Of the delegates in Tallinn, 77% stayed in accommodation enterprises (hotel, guest house, etc.), however, 21% used rental space for this purpose (e.g. through Airbnb). A total of 1% of foreign delegates stayed with their friends or relatives, or used some other accommodation option (e.g. the employer’s apartment, etc.). Most of the delegates in Tartu (92%) stayed in accommodation enterprises, only 5% used rental space, and 2% other accommodation options. The hotel booking was mainly made through the conference organisers or independently through a booking system (e.g. booking.com or expedia.com).
A total of 91% who stayed at an accommodation enterprise were (very or rather) satisfied with its rooms and interior, 90% were satisfied with service. The catering service provided at the accommodation enterprises was given somewhat lower ratings – 84% were very satisfied or rather satisfied and 16% expressed dissatisfaction. Those who stayed in Tartu evaluated those factors slightly higher than those who stayed in Tallinn.
Satisfaction with conference and destination
The delegates expressed great satisfaction with both the conference venue and the catering service. A total of 80% of respondents were very satisfied with the conference venue and 76% with the catering service offered there.
In both Tallinn and Tartu, security and local language skills were valued the most. Poor access to international transport was highlighted as a disadvantage of Tartu; Tallinn has slightly lower ratings in terms of price and quality ratio.
Before the conference, 2/3 had not previously visited Estonia, 80% of them would consider Estonia as their future vacation destination. Over 90% of delegates would recommend Estonia as the conference venue. In the open comments, Estonia was highly praised for its beautiful nature and green lifestyle, and respondents also said good words about the choice of food and the general price level. It was also highlighted that Estonia is a fast-developing and amazingly beautiful country. On the positive side, the sizes of Tartu and Tallinn were mentioned, which made it easier and faster to move around, and public transport was described as low-priced and convenient. Delegates generally perceived the local people as welcoming and friendly, and they were pleasantly surprised by the overall English language skill level. The conference visitors praise the organisation of the conferences that have taken place in Estonia; some of those conferences have even received a lot of acclaim (although poor organisation was also mentioned in some cases). On the negative side, it was said that Tallinn or Tartu may be too small for a bigger conference. Poor flight connection is also one of the significant problems.