After months of planning and hard work, the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre has recently secured a prestigious event for the venue that will see millions of dollars injected into the region.
The International Congress of Plant Pathology (ICPP) is the global peak professional body for plant pathologists and will see the world’s most recognised academics converge on the Gold Coast to discuss plant protection, research and food security.
The Centre sat down with the president of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society, Andrew Geering, to discuss the planning process and how the venue and destination won the bid against tough competition, nationally and internationally.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about ICPP?
The International Congress of Plant Pathology is organised by the International Society for Plant Pathology once every five years. ICPP is the peak professional body for plant pathologists around the world and is dedicated to “promoting world-wide plant health and food security.”
Q: What is your role in ICPP?
I am President of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society and led the team that prepared the bid document. My job now, together with our organising team, is to turn the bid document into reality and make sure we deliver on our promises.
Q: What separates ICPP from other plant pathology conferences?
ICPP is the largest and most prestigious conference of its type, and we expect about 2,500 delegates from around the world, including most of the best and brightest people in this scientific field.
Q: What are the objectives of ICPP?
First and foremost we want to run the best Congress that has ever been held, in the true Australian tradition. This Congress will be the first ever held in a tropical or subtropical region and we aim to highlight some of the food security issues in this region by holding special sessions focusing on tropical crops such as rice, banana and cassava. This is a particularly important consideration as it is expected that 50% of the world’s population will live in the tropics by 2050. Furthermore, tropical climes are expanding poleward because of global warming. It is timely that the spotlight is turned to tropical plant pathology.
Q: Is legacy important to ICPP or Australian Plant Pathology?
Most definitely! We anticipate the Congress will be a bit like a science festival, with many satellite events and opportunities for the general public, the farming community and even school kids to become involved through public lectures and special workshops. For such a large gathering of the world’s science experts such as this, it is only natural that we will engage the ABC Science Unit and also ABC Rural Radio to help communicate some of the recent breakthroughs in plant disease management and agriculture.
This congress will also be a great boost for the plant pathology community in Australia and the broader Asia-Pacific region. Scientists in developing countries such as Cambodia and Laos struggle to find funding for almost any research activities, and we plan to develop a large bursary fund to support them with their travel expenses. Our plan is to provide partial or complete financial assistance for 10% of the delegates attending the congress based on a needs basis. Food security means regional peace, and all Australians benefit from this. We are engaging the Australian Government very early on in organisation of the Congress through inclusion of federal government representatives in the Organising Committee.
Q: How does the Australian Plant Pathology Society benefit from hosting an international conference on the Gold Coast?
There are many benefits. Australians are used to travelling long distances to get to international congresses but this opportunity is only available to a few at any time, perhaps thirty or forty. This time the collective expertise of the world is being brought to Australia, and most members will be able to attend, learn and build new collaborations with the international science community. This opportunity is extremely important for students and early career scientists, who are more likely to miss out on travel opportunities. We are planning special networking events so that students and early career scientists can meet with some of the plenary speakers and other luminaries.
The ICPP also provides an opportunity for our scientists to showcase their research to the general public and to the rest of the world. This exposure of our research can only benefit collaborations.
Finally, organisation of the ICPP will require a large team effort, involving 70 or 80 people if you include the various subcommittees. This will provide a real focus for our society, and it is not often that so many of our members can work together as a team at one time.
Q: What was considered when looking for a venue to host ICPP?
There were many reasons why we selected the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre to host the Congress.
The first, second and third reasons were location, location and location.
The bidding process was extremely competitive, and we ended up competing against cities in not only Australia and New Zealand but also other countries, Greece, Canada and South Korea. We wanted to choose a location that was a very attractive destination for international travellers, a location that might be on someone’s ‘bucket list of places to go’ and somewhere they could take their families.
The Gold Coast is an ideal location for large congresses such as this, as there are a multitude of accommodation options at all price points – around 2,800 hotel beds within 2km of the convention centre. This was a very important consideration for us. We wanted the delegates to have choices about where to stay, depending on their financial means and the fact that everyone will be accommodated close to the convention centre just adds to the delegate experience, and also encourages professional networking. There is nothing worse than having everyone spread out across the city.
I am also very keen to build the beach into social networking events, such as early morning beach walks, yoga and maybe even surfing lessons! This should encourage a fun and relaxing experience.
From a scientific perspective, the Gold Coast is also located close to some of the most productive agricultural districts in all of Australia, and outstanding natural landscapes such as Lamington National Park. This makes it very easy for us to organise technical tours and I am sure many delegates will extend their visits so they can holiday in these areas.
Q: How was your experience working with the venue and organising committees on the bid process?
We had a really enjoyable experience working with the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre team and Destination Gold Coast, they were a great support when preparing the bid document. We really couldn’t have done it without them, they contacted us early, they made requests for support from Tourism Australia and Destination Gold Coast on our behalf and providing that sponsorship support was a very important part of the bidding process. They also engaged a professional conference organiser on our behalf.
Q: Was there one specific advantage the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre held over other venues?
We were very attracted by the size of the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre, which is described as a boutique convention centre. With over 2,500 delegates, we will be able to book out the entire Centre, which will create a sense of community and we really want to encourage professional networking. It also means we will be able to brand the entire Centre as the International Congress of Plant Pathology and that was really important for us.
Watch the ICPP case study video to learn more from Andrew Geering on the bidding process at GCCEC.