Cross-Border Cooperation During Covid-19
Riikka Räsänen & Tuija Kainulainen
When Covid-19 shut down the borders between Finland and Russia, creating cross-border cooperation became a new challenge the Karelian Wellness project did not anticipate. As one of the projects main goals was to connect Russian and Finnish companies to create cross-border cooperation, this required the team to created new innovative solutions.
The idea to create a cross-border cooperation wellness tourism webinar began. The themes and topics interested both Finnish and Russian companies, so figuring out a way to stream the event to all parties was essential. Some of the problems that arose in the beginning, what programs work in Finland and Russia, how to market the event in a way all participants understand the content, how to simultaneously translate the event and how the information would benefit both Finnish and Russian participants.
Creating Cross-Border Cooperation Online
As the project has five different partners, (Karelia University of Applied Sciences, the University of Eastern Finland, Savonia University of Applied Sciences, Petrozavodsk State University, and Petrozavodsk City Administration), in two different countries (Finland and Russia), deciding on an online platform that is available for all partners to use (including licensing options) became its own problem. Karelia UAS and Savonia UAS mainly uses Microsoft Teams as their online platform, UEF uses Zoom, and Petrozavodsk State University & Petrozavodsk City Administration use traditional Skype. Finding an option that allows all participants to view the same slides and video feed but receive different audio channels (Finnish & Russian) created an additional problem. Microsoft Teams turned out to not work well in Russia, which automatically removed that option. Traditional Skype did not have all the additional options to host an international webinar. Skype for Business was not in use in Russia, which also removed this option.
The goal was to host two separate webinars, the first hosted by the University of Eastern Finland and the second co-hosted by Karelia UAS and Savonia UAS. Having an online platform that serviced these both “host” organizations became its own challenge, as Karelia UAS did not have a professional license version of Zoom. The solution to ultimately use Zoom was decided because the program allows simultaneous interpreter “channels” during the same webinar. This would allow a Russian interpreter to simultaneously translate the Finnish presentations to the Russian participants. This also would allow the same registration link to be shared to all participants. The licensing problem was addressed by having UEF host all the webinars and make Karelia UAS & Savonia UAS co-hosts. Working together to problem solve the online platform is one clear input of co-operation in the Karelian Wellness Project.
Hosting an Interactive Cross-Border Webinar
The Finnish partners decided to host two separate webinars in October using the online platform Zoom. The first webinar titled: Development Opportunities for Wellness Tourism in Eastern Finland, took place on 21.10.2020. The goal of the first webinar was to give information about the Project study outcomes of wellness company interviews, how the outcomes differ in Finland and Russia responds and how to understand the different wellness tourism vocabulary when speaking about different wellness tourism topics. The final published report of the study research will be published in the beginning of 2021. The second webinar titled Utilizing Service Design in Wellness Tourism took place on 27.10.2020. The goal of the second webinar was to inform participants how to use the information from the first webinar in creating user-centered services and products. The goal was to explain service design principles and how to utilize data gathered in a user-centered way and how to benefit from the differences in Russian and Finnish answers.
Both webinars were a success, with over 20 companies or organization representatives present in each webinar, with five being from Russia. The online platform allowed participants to ask questions in the chat as well as asking questions directly to the presenter through the microphone. During one presentation, a Russian participant asked the question in Russian, which was then translated to the Finnish participants. This allowed for any participant to communicate with each other and equally be heard, regardless of language.
As the main organizers of the webinars were the Finnish partners, with the main participants being Finnish companies and organizations, the presentation materials will be translated into Russian and utilized in a future event hosted by the Russian partners in December. The service design methods and ideas were new to the Russian participants and was beneficial for their interest in creating better services and products for their customers. This showcased useful co-operation between the Russian and Finnish participants in networking and sharing insight.
The interest in service design grew after the webinars and Karelia UAS in cooperation with Savonia UAS organized a webinar and workshop for Finnish companies on 23.11.2020. The morning webinar session was key noted by Tarinakone’s Anne Kalliomäki, who inspired the participants to focus on storytelling and the companies own “red thread” in everything they do in their organization. Lietsu Boutique Aparthotel’s Helena Puhakka-Tarvainen also spoke about their companies use of service design when creating a user-centered aparthotel service. After these presentations, the afternoon sessions focused on workshopping with the companies on their own needs. The individual sparring themes were customer insight, critical spots, pricing, and creating new services. The information from this webinar & workshop was shared with the Russian partners, so they will be able to host a workshop using these themes for their companies.
Future Prospects For Cross-border Cooperation During The Project
The impact of the pandemic on tourism is vast and the tourism restrictions will continue at least until the spring of 2021. The unprecedented situation in both Russia and Finland shows that the pandemic will continue until a vaccine is available. Despite these challenges, the Karelian Wellness Projects want to continue cooperating. A different challenge is also the drastic number of webinars; how to get entrepreneurs to take part in the events we organize? Service design has aroused a lot of interest among entrepreneurs and the changing tourism behavior gives cause for further research. On a positive note, according to statistics, domestic tourism has increased in both Russia and Finland, and well-being has become a megatrend.
The situation is challenging in many ways, because we do not yet know the future. New models of work and study (distance work and study) also provide new opportunities. At the same time, however, the potential risks of remote participation, such as unequal access to remote connections, must also be considered. The rapid transition to e-working has brought challenges to the project’s goals and content, as well as to the organization of trainings and workshops, but challenges have been made to be overcome.
The Parliament’s Committee for the Future (2020, 53) see the concrete effects of the crisis in the next two years to be financial. Restrictions on the movement and assembly of people to prevent the spread of the virus have led to major changes in the operation of the Karelian Wellness Project. The target group of the project is wellness tourism companies and due to the current situation, the cooperation between the companies depends solely on e-meetings. It is now appropriate to consider whether some plans will be postponed to the autumn of 2021 or whether more new ways of working remotely across borders will be considered by spring 2021.
Ideally, travel restrictions will remain temporary, allowing joint meetings already planned to take place in 2021. A possible threat due to the pandemic is a prolongation of the travel restrictions and a deepening into a recession with long-term effects (more than five years). In this case, the immediate economic damage caused by the crisis will turn into long-term shrinking demand. In the short term, previously healthy companies will go bankrupt and unemployment will rise in all sectors of the economy. (Parliament’s Committee for the Future 2020, 55.) With the help of service design, it is also possible to think about cost efficiency, without forgetting the customer and hopefully surviving the pandemic.
They say knowledge adds pain. There are many ways to do things, so we take on the challenge. We can act now or later, quickly or gradually, or by experimenting with different approaches and solutions. We can later go back to the old, familiar way of doing things or we can create something new and better. At the moment, we certainly cannot say which is the best option, but afterwards we can say whether we succeeded or not. However, contact with companies is important as we believe that tourism will still be profitable in the future. Despite the challenges, cross-border co-operation has got off to a good start and the popularity of wellness tourism will increase in the future.
About the Karelian Wellness Project
The Karelian Wellness Project is a Karelia CBC funded cooperative project between Karelia University of Applied Sciences, the University of Eastern Finland, Savonia University of Applied Sciences, Petrozavodsk State University, and Petrozavodsk City Administration. The Project began in January 2020 and will last until December 2021. The main goals of the Project are to increase cross-border cooperation between Finnish and Russian wellness tourist companies and services across the Karelian border.
Riikka Räsänen, Project Manager & Tuija Kainulainen, Project Expert, Karelia UAS
The Parliament’s Committee for the Future. 2020. The short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 Pandemic. The Parliament of Finland. (In Finnish) https://www.eduskunta.fi/FI/naineduskuntatoimii/julkaisut/Documents/tuvj_1+2020.pdf