Regarded as the biggest annual gathering of the European zoo and aquarium community and arguably the most important event in the industry’s calendar, the 4-day conference kicks off today with a jam packed programme focused on promoting biodiversity and wildlife conservation.
Belfast’s honey pot of fantastic conference facilities, excellent choice of hotels and an active European and international breeding programme to help protect endangered species, were key to attracting 700 delegates from 44 countries to the city, and generating an estimated £1.4m for the local economy.
Dr Thomas Kauffels, the chair of European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) is thrilled to bring their annual conference to Belfast for the very first time, and comments: “Belfast Zoo and the city have designed a 4-day programme guaranteed to excite, engage and enable us to explore the region’s rich culture as well as the local ecosystems.
“Having a conference centre that is flexible and able to adapt helped create the winning proposal and the perfect setting for this year’s conference. Belfast Waterfront’s fantastic conference facilities are even better than some UK centres. Its city centre location and convenience to the region’s two airports have proven extremely beneficial to our international delegates – members can fly in and go straight to a meeting, hassle free,” adds Dr Kauffels.
The recently completed £29.5m extension to Belfast Waterfront funded by Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund, through the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, was designed to attract a wider range of conferences to the city.
Delegates at the EAZA conference have travelled from far and wide to attend the event, including from Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Managing Director of Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall Ltd, Catherine Toolan was joined at the opening of the conference by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston, and Laurie Scott of Visit Belfast to welcome EAZA to their city.
Belfast Zoo curator, Andrew Hope, said: “We first bid for the conference, along with Visit Belfast and ‘Conference Partners’ a number of years ago and the whole Belfast Zoo team is delighted to have been chosen to host such a prestigious event, as this recognises the excellent work that Belfast Zoo does as well as showcase Belfast as a city and conference destination.”
Managing Director of Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall Ltd, Catherine Toolan is delighted to play a part in raising the profile of the tremendous work at Belfast Zoo and to welcome their industry peers from across the world to the city: “Our new flexible 7,000m2 conference facility can deliver a brand new event experience for up to 5,000 delegates as well as can create a more intimate environment that will boast a true cooperative learning experience for our clients, and their delegates.”
Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast added “Belfast’s reputation as a premier conference destination is growing nationally and internationally, and the value of the sector to our local economy has more than doubled in the last four years, supporting our hotels, restaurants, conference venues and transport providers. Visit Belfast has been involved from the start of the bidding process alongside Belfast Zoo and Conference Partners, so we are thrilled to finally welcome over 700 zoo professionals to the city.”