New Zealand provided the Australasian Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine with its biggest conference yet.

Auckland is easy to access for international delegates. Having those increases is really important because we are an Australasian association.

Jo Robinson, Business Development & Sponsorship Manager at DC Conferences

Any initial fears in the Australian organising team that delegate numbers would decrease with the trip over the Tasman proved unfounded. The 9th Biennial Conference attracted nearly 550 Allied Health Professionals and Medical Professionals to the Cordis hotel in Auckland, up from 467 at the Adelaide event in 2016.

Jo Robinson, Business Development & Sponsorship Manager at Sydney-based DC Conferences, says: “The 2018 conference delegate numbers exceeded expectation which was fantastic. We had to increase the size of the plenary to accommodate the increase in numbers. The main increase in numbers came from New Zealanders attending, however it was also very encouraging to see the high number of Australian delegates crossing the Tasman to attend the conference. Having direct flights between all the major Australian centres to Auckland certainly made access easy.”

Also heartening was the leap in international delegates, particularly from China, helping AusACPDM with its goal of growing the biennial conference to become the pre-eminent professional development opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region for clinicians and researchers working in the field of cerebral palsy and child-onset disability.

“Auckland is easy to access for international delegates. Having those increases is really important because we are an Australasian association,” Robinson notes.

The conference was themed ‘Empowerment and Partnership’, with a diverse programme including 120 free papers, 15 breakfast sessions and 16 concurrent workshops, all demonstrating high quality research findings to ensure strong, well-informed, empowered clinicians.

Local experts

While Auckland was seen as the next logical destination in the association’s conference rotation, a strong local knowledge hub was integral to the event’s success. This included organising committee members Professor Sue Stott of Starship Children’s Hospital and Amy Hogan of the Cerebral Palsy Society of New Zealand.

“It was an excellent local organising committee. It is so important to have them on the ground to make introductions and build the relationships,” Robinson adds. “They are really well known in Cerebral Palsy in New Zealand. Delegates commented that the speakers at the event were absolute experts in their field.”

Robinson notes that Tourism New Zealand’s Conference Assistance Programme was also a great help.

“The main challenge with taking a conference offshore is budget. We applied for CAP funding and we were able to use that for targeted marketing to get more delegates to the conference, including developing our conference website.

“We also knew that a number of our loyal and long-standing exhibitors/sponsors would
not cross the Tasman as they either have representation in New Zealand or don’t have NZ as part of their market, so it was a challenge to make up that lost revenue. When I could see our exhibitor numbers had dropped we applied for financial support from the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust, which encourages the development of health-related research in New Zealand.

“Having both Tourism New Zealand’s and the Paykel Trust’s support was of great benefit and it assisted with keeping the delegate registration cost down. From the conference survey 40% of respondents were self-funded to attend the conference, so registration cost is very important.”

A roaring success

The venue and programme also played their part in a positive conference experience. An initial choice between Sky City Convention Centre and the Cordis (formerly The Langham) ended in favour of the Cordis, which was able to provide “a softer and friendlier environment and encouraged small group interactions and offered many private and relaxing spaces to network”, Robinson says. “The venue floor staff were very attentive and the venue conference manager was excellent to work with and very accommodating; 95% of survey respondents rate the Cordis as Good/Very Good.”

One unexpected challenge was musician Ed Sheeran announcing two concerts at the same
time as the conference, which put pressure on local accommodation. “Even though we advised delegates to get in and book accommodation early a number didn’t and found it hard to find accommodation. Other hotels were suggested on the conference website that were located in close proximity to try and help.”

Conference highlights included a traditional Māori pōwhiri welcome to open proceedings; and a Roaring 20’s-themed gala dinner at the Heritage Hotel’s Grand Tearoom.

“It was nice to be able to bring a New Zealand element to it with the pōwhiri at the start,” Robinson says. “While some delegates were initially skeptical about the themed approach to the dinner, it was excellent. A lot of allied health people love dancing and really enjoyed it and we got very good feedback.”

A Tourism New Zealand video and link on the conference website suggesting things to do in Auckland and New Zealand also proved popular. “Delegates were saying there was a lot to see and do.”

In all, organisers were very happy with the results of the Auckland event, and hope it will now encourage a more diverse delegation at the next Australian event. “It was nice to expose more New Zealanders to the conference. Hopefully now they have experienced it they will come over to the next conference in Perth.”