The 2nd Asia Parks Congress held from 24 to 29 May 2022 was the largest of its kind since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sabah welcomed over 1,250 physical and virtual protected area practitioners and conservationists from 49 countries to the landmark event at Sabah International Convention Centre (SICC). The Congress was organised by Sabah Parks, the State Government of Sabah, Malaysia, in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).
The inaugural Asia Parks Congress (APC), held in Sendai, Japan November 2013, was established in response to climate change and biodiversity loss and to advocate the values of protected areas in Asia. Following the success of the APC, the international steering committee of the 2nd Asia Parks Congress (APC2022) met in Bangkok in 2019 and selected Sabah, the home of Kinabalu Park, to be the host for APC2022.
When congress registration opened for APC2022 in January 2022, Malaysia’s international border remained closed due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 outbreaks. The option for virtual participation was available for delegates to attend the hybrid event, and those residing in Malaysia had the opportunity to attend in person. Having been closed for almost two years, Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA), the second busiest airport in Malaysia, reopened its international gateways to welcome travellers on the first week of April 2022. Following the relaxed travel restrictions, many virtual attendees converted their registration to physical participation, travelling from various parts of the world to gather, network, and share experiences at APC2022.
Building on the theme “Parks for Nature and People,” the noteworthy event gathered decision makers from government agencies, indigenous people, civil society, academia, and the private sector to participate in a hybrid format, a comprehensive event programme which encompassed six parallel Working Groups, expert dialogues, poster sessions, side events by 27 organisers, exhibition, curated youth session, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities forum as well as field excursions to some of Sabah’s protected areas including Kinabalu Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Throughout the five-day event, APC2022 occupied more than 15,793sqm event space at SICC. Utilising three floors with each function room layout adhering to strict health and safety SOP. Sipadan convention hall and Kinabatangan exhibition hall were the two largest venues used for APC2022; registration booths were set up at the 1,810sqm foyer to the exhibition hall with direct access to the carpark, and the 5,200sqm exhibition hall was divided to offer four event space with a range of set-up including exhibition booths, poster display walls, hybrid forums, and talks. Soundproof meeting rooms across from the exhibition hall served as secretariat rooms and were used for side events. On level four, the 5,200sqm flexible convention hall was set up to accommodate various styles for the Congress, which ranged from welcome banquet dinner, plenary sessions, and closing ceremony to break-out sessions, while the pre-function foyer offers 1,910sqm open space for coffee/tea breaks, exhibition booths, and workshop.
From the APC2022 organisers’ perspective, Kota Kinabalu offers the ideal location to host the landmark event. Kota Kinabalu is a compact city, easy to walk around to shopping malls and eateries, and the city’s close proximity to KKIA. Overall, APC2022 was a great showcase of Sabah’s strong destination appeal, complemented by Kota Kinabalu’s capability of delivering extraordinary business events in partnership with all stakeholders. Malaysia Airlines, the official airline partner, offered a special promotional rate for the Congress attendees, special room rates were available, and discounts were offered at retail stores, restaurants, and cafés, while shuttle services between hotels, congress venue, and to excursion points were provided.
With signs of increasing MICE events across the globe post-COVID-19 world, the benefits of face-to-face business events will return in a safe environment. Sabah ticks all the boxes for event professionals; an abundance of outdoor space and unique natural attractions, international standard MICE venue, the capital city Kota Kinabalu, the northern gateway to North Borneo offers great air accessibility; direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Seoul, Bandar Seri Begawan, with more routes to be reinstated connecting to regional destinations. Sabah is known as a leisure destination, and Kota Kinabalu has a wide range of accommodation from local to 5-star hotel chains, exciting culinary offerings, comfortable temperature, and a short distance to places of interest.
APC2022 is a great example of Sabah’s capacity to organise such events. Besides conferences and exhibitions, the Sabah International Convention Centre is also capable of hosting music concerts, such as the Michael Jackson tribute concert and the Bronze Island Music Festival this September. As physical events are gaining momentum here, Sabah welcomes visitors to be part of the Borneo Bird Festival happening from 22 – 23 October 2022 in Sandakan and the World Tourism Conference, which will be held from 28 to 30 November 2022.