Challenges and opportunities of holding a conference in New Zealand

An interview with Sione Tu’itahi (HPF)
5th Oct, 2016

New Zealand will host the world health promotion conference of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) in 2019. Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director of The Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand – Runanga Whakapiki Ake I Te Hauora o Aotearoa (HPF), explains why New Zealand is the perfect host for a conference based on planetary health and sustainable development.

Why is this conference so important? How did you get involved in bidding for it?

Sione Tu'itahiIUHPE's conference is the biggest health promotion event in the world. Health does not begin at the hospital. By the time a person reaches there it’s too late. Health promotion works with communities and peoples where their health begins: where they live, learn, love, work, play and pray. The evidence-based knowledge and professional experience shared will be immense and is urgently needed, to address the global health challenges and socio-economic issues faced by humanity today. The HPF is a member of IUHPE and I am a member of the Global Executive Board of IUHPE. We have had ambitions to host the conference for some time now and are delighted that our plans are now coming to fruition.

Can you tell us a bit about the conference?

We hope to attract at least 2,000 participants. It will take place April 7-12, 2019 in Rotorua. We have devised a Rotorua ‘Conference Village’ with the Energy Events Centre as the main hub, and three other neighbouring centres for sub-plenaries and break outs; all within a healthy walking distance. The theme of the 2019 event will be Waiora: Promoting Planetary Health and Sustainable Development For All. Leaders from across the spectrum – from health to climate change and socio-economic development – will meet and share knowledge that can contribute to making the world a healthier place to live.

What makes Rotorua such a fitting host?

Rotorua has all the resources and facilities needed for a world conference of this calibre and size, and can deliver it on budget. It is also New Zealand’s cultural heartland, with our indigenous Maori peoples leading from the front in terms of governance, education, health, commerce, and community and iwi (tribal) development.

In fact, our conference theme was initially inspired by discussions with indigenous leaders in Rotorua. New Zealand is recognised asa world leader in terms of knowledge, research, and practice of indigenous health promotion,and this will be a central theme of the content. Our fellow indigenous health promoters from around the world tell us they look forward to joining us in 2019 and learning from our experience.

Hermitage Hotel, Mount Cook National ParkRotorua is an outstanding tourist city, imbued with the heart-felt hospitality of its local indigenous peoples – Te Arawa. Activities include Maori cultural experiences, soaking in the natural geothermal hot pools, and admiring the impressive views from the  gondola; or it's only a short trip to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Rotorua is also a healthy city that is moving towards having all aspects of its development sustainable. Our colleagues are very health-conscious professionals and we are confident they will love the ability to walk and cycle around the city, with its world-class facilities and beautiful natural environment.

What are the challenges and opportunities of holding a conference in New Zealand?

Our distance might be seen as a challenge but transport and communication is so advanced and our country such a popular destination that this is easily managed. New Zealand is accessible in terms of travel, and offers many unique experiences in a country that is safe, clean and healthy. Some of the logistics such as organizing transport and accommodation for more than 2,000 participants from around the world can be challenging, but we are confident that this will be very effectively managed.

Experience shows us that our fellow health professionals are willing to travel to attend this triennial conference because of the unmatched opportunity to witness successful health promotion initiatives in other countries. Many of the health promotion colleagues from around the world that we met at the last conference in Brazil are keenly looking forward to the conference hosted here. We are confident New Zealand will have the added attraction of its natural beauty, beautiful weather, friendly people and its reputation as a small nation that punches above its weight in many fields.

What are you hoping hosting this event will achieve?

An obvious benefit will be the raised profile worldwide for our organization and New Zealand's health promotion and public health sectors. Similarly, New Zealand as a tourist destination and as a member of the international community will be further elevated and promoted.

Hosting the conference also demonstrates our leadership and experience at regional and global levels. HPF co-hosts the regional office of IUHPE for the South West Pacific alongside the esteemed Health Promotion & Research Unit (HePPRU), of the School of Public Health, University of Otago. By bringing the world to New Zealand, HPF’s members and colleagues have the chance to gain knowledge and network with their peers around the world. Equally, we have a great deal to offer the rest of the world in terms of our unique experience. An example of this is the work to make New Zealand smokefree by 2025.

Part of the event's longer legacy might be the establishment of a durable health initiative. We are hoping to focus on establishing the World Health Organization‘s ‘healthy city’ initiative in Rotorua; providing a model for the rest of the country, and the world.

What support did you have to win this conference for New Zealand?

Tourism New Zealand has been a wonderful, professional and generous partner in this journey and we believe their support has been pivotal to the success of our bid. Not only did they financially support us to prepare the bid, to travel and present, but they also continue to provide advice and support; identifying other key stakeholders to work with to ensure the success of the bid and the conference.

Equally important was the support and guidance from our national leaders. The judging panel was impressed by the calibre of the leaders who have supported - and are still supporting - us. We have the support of the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John Key, and the Minister of Health, the Honourable Jonathan Coleman. We also have the support of our country’s indigenous and health leaders. All health promotion/public health schools from our universities, one Wananga and other tertiary institutions have also provided support and practical help. On the local level from Rotorua, we have the support of Te Arawa Trust, the Mayor of Rotorua, and many other partners.

And of course Helen Clark – former Prime Minister of New Zealand and the current head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – has expressed her enthusiasm for UNDP involvement in the conference.

The panel was very impressed that it is a whole nation supporting us, not just a lone and isolated effort by HPF. A marketing plan is now being put in place to make sure that Rotorua in April 2019 is the destination of choice for all those in health promotion. This conference is a win-win opportunity and we are very excited about it.

More on New Zealand as a business events destination on

Main picture Te Puia Rotorua copyright Bob McCree

Hermitage Hotel, Mount Cook National Park copyright Canterbury Miles Holden

Te Puia Rotorua copyright Eric Lindberg

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