BY BRAD FOSTER
When the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons decided to take its meeting offshore it chose Malaysia.
With 1250 participants from throughout Australia and New Zealand, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ (RACS) 81st Annual Scientific Congress 2012 was held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre after some extensive research.
The RACS Council was determined to identify an overseas location that would both suit its requirements and match its calibre, and one that was within 10 hours flying time from Australia.
Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur were earmarked as a possibility in light of the country’s many positive propositions: from a reputation as a value-for-money destination within the region and easy accessibility to a fully-integrated transportation system, ethnic diversity, abundant variety of cuisine and dietary choices, and plentiful pre- and post-tour options.
In the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre’s favour was also an impressive portfolio of medical meetings it had already hosted including the XVIII FIGO World Congress of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) 2006 with 8294 delegates, 13th International Congress of Infectious Diseases in June 2008 with 3200 delegates, and 8th Asian Congress of Neurological Surgeons in November 2010 with 2000 participants.
The highlight of the Australian and New Zealand surgical fraternity’s event calendar, the ASC is the RACS’s largest multi-disciplinary surgical meeting and a major educational activity for fellows and surgeons to explore a myriad of scientific programs while keeping abreast of the latest surgical advancements in a dynamic and international forum setting. The annual meeting also provides the opportunity to network, brainstorm and engage in dialogue on a range of topics – from surgical oncology, medico-legal and pain medicine to surgery education and transplantation surgery among others.
Held over five days at the centre, the 81st ASC2012 (ASC) attracted more than 1200 participants from the Asia Pacific region and garnered an estimated RM13.5 million (AUD4.4 million) in international visitor expenditure.
For the centre, it was an honour to host yet another international medical conference of this stature.
“Besides experiencing first-hand what Kuala Lumpur city has to offer visitors and the centre’s world-class products and services, ASC2012 provided local surgeons and medical professionals the opportunity to further develop their skills, professional relationships and networks,” said Datuk Peter Brokenshire, general manager of the KLCC.
As with any meeting of this size there were numerous challenges which began before the conference started. In the bidding process it was important the Team Malaysia partners were in sync and worked together to offer an attractive and unbeatable conference package. For the record, a site visit was held in March 2009 and the centre won the bid for the 2012 congress in July 2009.
With the assistance of the centre RACS secured subvention funding to enable the creation of a legacy program for event marketing and promotion of the conference prior to the event. The Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) facilitated the site inspections and provided onsite support such as sponsorship of the welcome reception and gifts for delegates that reflected the diversity of Malaysian culture.
In addition, MyCEB assisted with partial sponsorship of the registration fees for local delegates to allow more Malaysian surgeons to participate in the conference.
In appreciation of MyCEB’s support, RACS committed to MyCEB’s ‘Meet and Green’ which will see contributions collected channelled to the Forest Research Institute, Malaysia’s tree-planting program.
The congress’s master program was very tight and full as evidenced by the more than 300-page briefing document. In addition to Masterclasses and 28 interlinked sub-scientific sessions, there were sub-events with catering requirements at different times, location and dates – all of which not only required detailed planning and coordination but provided an extra challenge in the planning of the daily signage and for the centre’s ushers in directing delegates to the correct event and venue.
To cope with this organisational and coordination conundrum, the Banquet Event Order (BEO) and daily signage were simplified to only the header title. The catering team made reference to the sub-sessions timing and duration when a room needed to be refreshed.
For the ushers, a handy simplified program booklet meant delegates only had to point out the session they wished to attend on the booklet and the ushers were able to guide them immediately to the correct venue. This helped ensure each sub-session proceeded on schedule and minimised any confusion among delegates in reaching their designated rooms.
Special and last minute requests
To give delegates an unforgettable culinary experience, the centre’s food and beverage team developed a customised menu for the gala dinner with exciting dishes such as the South China Sea Kingdom – a double-boiled medley of seafood soup served in a young coconut which turned out to be a hit among the delegates.
The centre also was fully prepared to handle requests for vegetarian and gluten-free dishes as well as one delegate’s sesame oil allergy.
One of the key challenges was logistics – moving delegates to their specialty dinners in 32 coaches with minimal traffic congestion at the centre’s main entrance. It was a case of all hands on deck with a collective effort of the entire team. Management right down to concierge, security and catering personnel as well as event coordinators and the organising team assisted, handing out bottled water and directing and ushering delegates to their buses. The centre’s quick response impressed the organising team who had never, in their conference experience, had the general manager of a venue “mucking in”.
The delegate experience was also enriched by the centre’s complimentary cultural showcase.
Comprising batik-painting, basket-weaving, wood carving, songket-weaving, pewter smithing, henna painting and Chinese calligraphy, and presented to the soothing sounds of the gamelan (traditional Malay orchestra) – a cadence of bronze instruments only found in South East Asia and comprising metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs, bamboo flutes, and bowed and plucked strings, the showcase gave the delegates a peek into Malaysia’s thriving cultural roots. The experience was completed with 10 complimentary tickets to the Sky Bridge of the iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers for a bird’s eye view of modern Kuala Lumpur.
For many of the international participants, the cultural showcase was an opportunity to experience and enjoy Malaysia’s rich heritage without having to leave the venue as many had limited time to explore the destination.
The centre’s team also proactively assisted in the event planning with value-added incentives such as décor for the gala dinner and a lively lion dance. By going the extra mile – something which is reportedly second nature to the team – a more cordial and warmer relationship was developed with the organisers.
Last but not least, the organisers were impressed with and grateful for the centre’s hands-on approach throughout the conference, and with the level of involvement of the centre’s team in all aspects of the conference to ensure the delivery of a memorable world-class experience for all delegates.
Conference and events manager of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Lindy Moffat, said the experience with the centre could be rated as “excellent”.
“We received the most amazing support pre-event and on site,” Ms Moffat said.
“We cannot fault the centre in any respect. All catering was outstanding, in particular the congress banquet. The team we worked with went out of their way to help us, and were there with us every time we needed something fixed… they were the best convention centre team we’ve ever worked with and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons will definitely be returning to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.”