Best known for its sunshine, beaches and cultural offering, the Bay of Islands proved a powerful host of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) 8th Asia Pacific Regional Conference.

There was a really good feel for the place. People were in awe of the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the people.

Wendy Cliff, International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) coordinator

What started as an exercise in keeping costs low to make the event accessible ended in an event where the local culture and destination shaped the content and experience.

International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) coordinator Wendy Cliff says the 2018 Asia Pacific event - which aimed to bring together researchers, practitioners, helpline workers, programme planners, graduate students, those within the community and anyone affected by suicidal persons in the Asian-Pacific Region - was the first to be brought in-house by the association.
 
Melbourne-based Ms Cliff initially looked at local options for the conference, but found them cost-prohibitive. A LINC familiarisation trip to Auckland proved positive, but she recalls “then the Bay of Islands was suggested to us, so we went that way… with no regrets”.
 
“We have quite a diverse delegation including people from developing countries, so it’s important it is an inclusive and cost-efficient conference; that they can attend, they can stay somewhere decent and can take part in things in the area,” she says.
 
“Auckland was nowhere near as expensive as Melbourne but the Bay of Islands allowed us to reduce the registration fee. We are a registered charity. Our conferences have to pay for themselves and it is extremely important that it is affordable for people from all over the region to attend.

“The venue, The Copthorne Hotel and Resort Waitangi, was great with its costs. They selected a window when the cruise ships had finished and they gave great rates on the rooms. Locals were actually querying the cost as to whether it was for just one day, not three and a half.”

Ali Smith, Director of Sales, Conference and Incentives, Australia and New Zealand, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, notes: “With a large international conference such as IASP, one of my jobs is to listen to what the client is trying to achieve. They needed to keep delegates together; a venue that was friendly, welcoming and reflected the local culture; a destination with a wow factor as this conference had not been to New Zealand before, and importantly, a hotel that would work within the budget constraints.

“Unique and alive with culture, as the birthplace of the nation, Northland is a fantastic destination. Conferences such as IASP allows us to showcase a region that most people would not have usually considered. I knew the region would understand and associate with the conference and we could achieve all the clients conferencing goals while at the same time benefiting the wider Northland tourism.”
 
Ms Cliff adds: “The Waitangi Treaty Grounds were also wonderful sponsors and allowed us to really bring that cultural focus in, which was a real eye opener for everyone. Māori elder Witi Ashby was amazing in all the help he gave us and organised a tremendous pōwhiri welcome, it was mind-blowing.”  

A unique perspective

It was this cultural element that provided a unique perspective in the programme, themed ‘Turning the tide together – Tai pari, Tai timu ngātahi ai’, with a focus on evidence-based research, best practice and innovative suicide prevention activities. “In suicide prevention culture and youth are an important focus. It was very much appreciated the focus we brought to these key areas.”
 
A local organising committee, incorporating the University of Otago, Clinical Advisory Services Aotearoa, Le Va and Te Rau Matatini helped lead a sterling programme of content and keynote speakers.
 
Professor Sir Mason Durie’s keynote on Indigenous Suicide Prevention was extremely well received, as was local speaker Dr Jemaima Tiatia Seath, who spoke on Pacific suicide prevention.
 
“It was a really strong experience for knowledge, skills, best practice, with some world leaders. Definitely from a cultural perspective it brought real value to the content,” Ms Cliff says.
 
Waitangi is where the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi were signed, and is a place where the indigenous Māori people have long debated key social and political issues – so it proved an appropriate place for the serious topics of the IASP.
 
“One of the other key things we announced at the conference was the formation of a new ‘Lived Experience’ special interest group. Those with Lived Experience have a great deal to give and inform to the field of suicide prevention. Sharing of knowledge and experience was a core component of the conference; there was a lot of practical discussions about finding solutions, and I think that was helped by the cultural aspect and the way it was framed.”

A beautiful backdrop 

The Bay of Islands beautiful backdrop also provided levity and space for thought, Ms Cliff notes, with delegates taking time outside the programme to undertake activities in the popular tourist spot, such as going on a boat trip to the famed Hole in the Rock, or enjoying a dolphin experience.
 
“There was a really good feel for the place. People were in awe of the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the people.”
 
A special event saw 80 delegates also enjoy an evening in the Waitangi Treaty Grounds with an amazing cultural performance and traditional hāngi dinner.
 
In all, the conference was deemed a success, attracting 276 delegates from as far afield as China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Canada, Brazil, Denmark, Nigeria, and Jamaica.
 
“Of the 276 delegates, 30 per cent were member-based, to get 70 per cent non-members, that was quite impressive,” Ms Cliff says. “I think it was a lovely destination, I think that helped, even though they had the trip to make from Auckland to the Bay of Islands. Auckland is so achievable for many destinations. Only small planes then fly in to the Bay of Islands, so that was one of our biggest hurdles, but a number of delegates drove the 3.5 hours from Auckland to the Bay of Islands themselves. We also ran two coaches there and back, which was definitely appreciated.”

Invaluable support

Despite the travel challenges, Ms Cliff says the destination excelled in other areas: “The Bay of Islands reinforced for me the importance of food, fresh air and daylight to the delegates. You don't always get all three, or even two out of three. It’s as important as the content, you have to get that other stuff right as well. The staff were fantastic; the food was amazing. We had a lot of people with special diets and requirements and they were so well catered for.
 
“The initial support and assistance from Tourism New Zealand was also invaluable. If it wasn't for (Australia-based Business Events Manager) Helen Bambry we couldn't have got things off the ground. She introduced us to the Copthorne and did a wonderful job of showcasing what was available.
 
“We took advantage of the Conference Assistance Programme, too, with Tourism New Zealand funding and supplying delegate marketing material including an exhibition booth and banner, video presentation, inserts, fern pins and information on the Bay of Islands event at the previous IASP conference in Kuching, Malaysia.
 
“That’s the great thing about Tourism New Zealand - they provided connections as well as support. That is something I didn't realise was out there, and those resources are awesome.”