HEART OF MARGARET RIVER HOSTS GLOBAL ECO CONFERENCE
- Event Name: GLOBAL ECO ASIA-PACIFIC TOURISM CONFERENCE 2020
- Destination: Margaret River, Western Australia
- Dates: 1-3 December 2020
- Venue: Margaret River HEART (‘Hub of Entertainment, Arts and Regional Tourism’)
- Number of Delegates: 347 in-person and online delegates
About the Event
The Global Eco Asia-Pacific Tourism Conference is hosted annually by Ecotourism Australia, a not-for-profit organisation focused on environmentally sustainable and culturally responsible tourism.
The three-day conference, in its 28th year in 2020, provided a forum for discussion of ideas, innovation and best practice and included workshops and specialised parallel plenary sessions. The conference also facilitated networking opportunities, delivering business benefits for delegates.
Participants at the Global Eco Conference included eco-tourism operators, national park agencies, state and national tourism organisations, industry organisations, conservation bodies, marine and reef tourism organisations and international tourism representatives.
Global Eco was previously staged at Margaret River in 1997, with the 2020 conference set to make a welcome return to the region.
Host venue was the Margaret River HEART entertainment and arts complex, located in the township of Margaret River, approximately three-hours’ drive south of Perth in Western Australia. The multiple spaces available at Margaret River HEART provided the ideal venue for the Global Eco Conference.
A wide range of accommodation providers within easy access of Margaret River HEART offered special rates for the conference delegates.
The Margaret River region is renowned for its stunning beauty, with a spectacular coastline boasting beautiful beaches, charming towns and rural landscapes, boutique wineries producing some of Australia’s premium vintages and a wide range of activities, attractions and accommodation options.
The Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association (MRBTA) was one of the major host sponsors of the conference and provided financial and in-kind support.
The 2020 Conference theme was ‘Revolution, Driving Evolution’, especially relevant considering the dramatic COVID-19 impact and large-scale changes made to the tourism landscape in 2020.
Sessions were held in the Main Theatre and Studio Theatre at Margaret River HEART, with a live-streamed program also available at selected eco-destinations in Queensland and NSW. Four displays were also set up in the HEART Foyer, which offers exhibition capacity for up to 30 trestle tables.
A ‘Welcome to Country’ presentation was delivered at the start of the conference by Josh Whiteland, a Wadandi Cultural Custodian, musician and performer from Koomal Dreaming, a cultural experiences and tour company based in the Margaret River region.
The Honourable Stephen Dawson MLC, the Western Australia Government Minister for Environment, Disability Services and Electoral Affairs provided the opening address on behalf of the WA Government.
A total of 65 keynote and workshop presentations were delivered during the program, with highly relevant topics such as “Taking Stock: Surviving the Impacts of Natural Disasters and Pandemics”.
National and international speakers, in person and online, very effectively and efficiently delivered live presentations to the delegates at the venue and also those participating online.
The HEART technical team used the venue’s state of the art technology to create multiple camera angles across the conference program, ensuring a more immersive experience for the viewer, both in person and online. Panel discussions, Q&A sessions, keynote delivery and streamed presentations were displayed on screen at the venue and online, all delivered with high-definition audio and vision. HEART’s access to uncontested broadband ensured seamless delivery.
A ‘Welcome’ networking event was held on the first evening of the conference at Margaret River HEART in the bar and courtyard area within the main foyer. The function enabled in-person delegates to meet and mingle, in an appropriately-distanced Covid-19 manner, and also engage with the speakers in attendance.
The Conference Dinner was held on the second evening at Voyager Estate, an award-winning family-owned Margaret River winery. Voyager is renowned for its wines, ‘Cape Dutch’ style of architecture, beautiful rose gardens and gourmet restaurant.
Additional networking opportunities were available throughout the conference program, with morning and afternoon tea and lunch breaks designed to enable discussions to continue beyond conference sessions.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented extraordinary challenges with the staging of the Global Eco Asia-Pacific Tourism Conference in 2020
Originally destined to attract interstate and international delegates and speakers, the conference format was initially amended to be an optional online or in-person event, as the pandemic took hold in March 2020.
However, by the July-September period, it became evident that the closure of various Australian borders meant that not only delegates but also speakers would be unable to enter Western Australia to participate.
The conference program was subsequently re-worked to deliver an in-person conference for those Western Australia-based delegates able to attend at the venue, whilst a live-streamed event was delivered for interstate and international delegates and presenters. This was the first time that the Global Eco Conference was ever run as a hybrid event, being in-person and live-streamed.
The impact of the WA border closure also presented additional challenges regarding local delegate participation, with West Australian ecotourism operators kept busy managing booking changes and the inevitable cancellations brought about by travel restrictions.
Whilst the majority of delegates and speakers were unable to attend in person, the event still delivered very effective promotion of the Margaret River and broader South West Region, both as a conference and a leisure visitor destination.
This was achieved via the pre and during-event sponsor acknowledgments in all communications including promotion on the delegate App, in the digital delegate conference handbook, on the conference website and via promotional signage at the venue.
The Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association also manned a display stand at the venue during the conference, to maximise the opportunity for direct engagement with delegates in attendance.
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, a record number of papers were offered for the event. Final delegate numbers saw 67 in-person delegates and 280 virtual registrations which comprised individual registrations, small group (2-5 people) registrations and five satellite nodes.
The post-conference delegate survey rated Margaret River HEART very favourably, with 96% of in-person attendees noting the host venue as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. This evaluation was higher than for any previous Global Eco Conferences staged in the 13-year period the survey has been conducted.
Tony Charters, the Convenor of the Global Eco Asia-Pacific Tourism Conference 2020, was effusive in his praise of Margaret River HEART as the venue for the 2020 Conference.
“HEART was a superb venue for the Global Eco Asia-Pacific Conference. Its state-of-the-art facilities, multiple rooms and spaces provided a high level of flexibility. The audio, lighting and seating is of an excellent standard and the building itself is set within a beautiful native landscaped garden, providing delegates with extremely pleasant surroundings, and great natural light and open spaces.”
He indicated that the HEART staff had been very supportive, working closely with the conference team to find solutions to the difficulties and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He made special mention of the technical support.
“In conducting both a live and online conference concurrently (including breakout sessions using solely online speakers) the technical staff at HEART were superb. They operated very well under the pressure of working across multiple nations, time-zones, limited speaker technical skills and a large speaking program.”