Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Too many international conferences are too costly

8 April, 2014 - 14:59 -- John Burton

IUCN World Parks Congress in 2014 is to be held in Sydney, Australia, in November. Why? Because it was invited to hold its conference there, and members then decided it would be a nice place to go.

Parks and protected areas are a key interest of World Land Trust (WLT) and we are members of IUCN. Despite this, no one from WLT will be able to attend this congress partly because it is far too costly, both in time and money.

Last year BirdLife International held its Congress in Ottowa, Canada. This location is also extremely expensive for not only travel but also accommodation.

Many conservationists are funded by public donations, and have a duty to their donors to ensure not only value for money, but also low carbon impacts. Moreover, the function of a world conference, surely, is to get work done, rather than have a jolly good time, so criteria for choosing a location should always be convenience and cost for the majority of attendees.

In selecting a venue for a big international congress related to conservation, I recommend the following requirements:

  • The location should be close to an international airline hub. This will enable the majority of attendees to obtain reasonable cost airline flights
  • The location should minimise the amount of international travel required for the total number of delegates (ie minimal carbon footprint)
  • Hotel accommodation should encompass a wide range of prices, with plenty of low cost accommodation
  • And last, ideally, it should be somewhere where delegates can gain additional benefits such as contact with relevant scientific expertise, funding agencies and so on

Taking these factors into account, it becomes clear that southern hemisphere destinations tend to be far less attractive than those in the north, unless the accommodation can costs override the other factors. It is also clear that locations close to such as Washington, London and Amsterdam are far better locations than many that are chosen as international conference venues.

In May, WLT is hosting its 25th Anniversary Partners Symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, a venue chosen for all the reasons cited above. Evaluation of the event will establish whether or not the symposium participants approve our choice of location, so I can shortly put my theory to the test.

But, in the meantime, what do my readers think?


100 % my opinion. Nearly from anywhere in the world you can find cheap flights to Europe and the possibility to book cheap accommodation in cities like Amsterdam is not to be beaten! Sometimes it looks more than make interesting trips around the world, than conferences like "work(!)shops". Well done John!

Submitted by john on

Thanks for the feedback Sabine. Let's hope some of the ‘BINGOs’ (Big International NGOs) take note.

Submitted by Sally Birch on

Quite agree with John, and glad to see him speak out. A travel expense account should be a rare privilege not a right to be squandered. Why not video conferencing in this digital age?

Submitted by Divya Karnad on

Agreed. Doesn't it therefore make sense to hold such conferences in developing countries, which are most often extremely biodiversity rich and are in need of discussions about how parks could be made to work, or how the park model needs to be modified to suit local conditions. Additional benefits are cheap accommodation and food that are more suited to the budget of developing nations (there is no way that I would consider Amsterdam to be cheap!!)

Submitted by Matthias on

Depending on the home countries of the audience, you should take into account how difficult it is to obtain a visa as well...

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