The Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s annual national conference, the Australian Pharmacy Professional Conference & Trade Exhibition (APP), is the largest pharmacy and trade show in the nation, with over 5000 delegates and 200 exhibitors.
A fixture on the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) calendar since the opening of the venue in 2005, the event’s comprehensive educational program, bustling trade exhibition and exciting social activities attract pharmacy owners and managers, pharmacists, retail managers, pharmacy assistants, students and pharmacy industry suppliers from around the country.
This year’s event was particularly special – not only did the packed conference program cover key issues around Australia’s COVID-19 economic and health recovery and the future of community pharmacy, but it also marked the first opportunity for the pharmacy industry to get together in one place since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
DESTINATION: GOLD COAST
Emma Fernance, Events Manager for The Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Queensland branch, says the location is a major factor in the Guild’s decision to return to GCCEC year after year.
As well as the golden sands and world-class surf that has long made the Gold Coast such an attractive destination for visitors, Emma says the vibrant lifestyle and village-like atmosphere of Broadbeach is key to the event’s success.
“Holding APP in Broadbeach helps to give the conference a sense of community,” she says, “because everyone stays in the same location. There’s plenty of accommodation near the venue, and a wide range of restaurants and bars and entertainment for delegates to enjoy after-hours – everything you need is right there, so no one has to get on a bus at the end of the day to get back to their accommodation or go to dinner. It really adds something to the event to go out to a restaurant and see other delegates there.”
Emma says the venue itself is also a major drawcard.
“We love working with the GCCEC team,” she says. “They’re flexible, they’re more cost-effective than other Convention Centres in major cities, and they’re able to give us exclusive use of the venue for the duration of the event, so we don’t have to share it with anyone.
”As well as using the venue’s versatile and contemporary meeting, event and exhibition spaces, APP utilises GCCEC’s northern lawn – a riverside setting with views of the Surfers Paradise skyline – with a 1500 square metre marquee.
“This was the third year we’ve used the northern lawn to host sit-down lunches in the marquee,” Emma says, “which was an idea that was suggested by GCCEC. We thought we might be running out of room inside the Centre, so we jumped at that idea when it was presented to us, because it meant we didn’t have to leave the Gold Coast.”
FACE TO FACE AGAIN
In 2020, APP was the first conference at GCCEC to be affected by COVID-19 regulations. The venue quickly pivoted to successfully bring key speakers to delegates through APP Online, broadcast live from the GCCEC arena.
This year, however, with physical conferences back on the agenda, Emma Fernance says there was no doubt the Guild would look to bring their delegates and exhibitors back together in the same space, rather than continuing as a virtual event.
“We actually surveyed our members about three years ago about why they come to our conference,” she remembers. “Interestingly, we thought the number one reason was going to be for their Continuing Professional Development. But in fact, the number one reason was actually networking.
“So we knew that APP couldn’t be replaced with a virtual event – temporarily, yes, but not permanently. It’s the networking and the connections that people are after. That’s why they’ll get on a plane or get in their car and come to an event, because you just can’t have those same interactions through a screen.”
Jamie Mahon, Events Manager at GCCEC, agrees with Emma’s assessment.
“That face-to-face contact, that opportunity to network and really engage with peers in the industry, is invaluable,” he says. “Virtual events are a short-term solution, but being able to get people together in the same place is still just so important in the long term, for all industries.”
In the current climate, that means ensuring that events remain compliant with GCCEC’s COVID Safe protocols, including strict contact tracing procedures; providing abundant hygiene stations and signage; replacing self-service food stations with stations staffed by employees; serving only bottled beverages; and assigning staff to act as COVID ambassadors and ensure best practices are followed by all employees and visitors on site.
“Our COVID ambassadors help people get to where they need to go while maintaining social distancing without any inconvenience,” Jamie explains, “so it’s still an enjoyable experience for the delegates.”
The conference was an unqualified success, with 5,200 delegates being able to gather in person for the first time since March 2020, and 400 industry product and service suppliers showcasing their wares on the sold-out trade exhibition floor.
“It’s been such a positive experience,” Emma Fernance says. “There was such a lovely, positive vibe on site, because everyone was just so happy to be there and to connect with people face-to-face. This is the sort of event where friends from university who are now spread out all around the country might get together once a year, so for people who hadn’t seen friends and industry colleagues for two years, it was so exciting for them to be able to catch up – and to network with new people, too.
“There were obviously COVID Safe protocols in place, but people are used to those now, so that wasn’t a problem. Everybody understands that these are the measures that have to be taken so everybody can stay safe and we can continue to have great events like this.”
With the aforementioned marquee on the northern lawn ensuring that the venue will continue to be able to accommodate the ever-expanding event, APP is set to return to the Gold Coast next year.
“We look forward to seeing everyone again at APP2022, which is being held on 24-27 March 2022 at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre,” Emma says.
GCCEC is welcoming events to our approved COVID Safe venue. Please contact us to discuss our amplified safety measures, revised capacities, menus and virtual event options, and find out more about our Site Specific COVID Safe Plan here.