“A Room with a ZOO” has made a name for itself in a short time. Their secret? Offering an extra experience by connecting people with each other and nature. Anja Stas of Flanders Meeting & Convention Center Antwerp (FMCCA) believes that this is something that can and should take place at every conference.
Anyone who sets foot in FMCCA for the first time is blown away. The beautiful building alone is an experience in itself. The historic wing, built at the end of the nineteenth century, is connected to the more modern wing by the daylight-covered Atrium. The impressive Queen Elizabeth Hall, an auditorium-style concert and conference room, has two thousand seats and perfect acoustics. The building comprises a total of 25,000 square metres of conference and meeting rooms that can be divided into thirty different rooms with the most modern facilities.
And then, of course, there is ZOO Antwerp, right next to the conference hall. Founded in 1843, this is the third oldest public and the first scientific zoo in the world. “If you book a conference with us, you’ll have the zoo too,” says CCO Anja Stas proudly. “We have halls that look out over the ZOO. Hence our slogan A Room with a ZOO.”
The diversity of facilities offers professional conference organizers and association managers fantastic opportunities for their conference. “We have an easily accessible location, within walking distance of Antwerp Central Station and various hotels,” says Anja.
“Our teams are doing their utmost to ensure that every conference runs smoothly. For example, our catering team has developed a menu with light dishes, so that you can keep your attention focused on the presentations.”
“In addition, we have a special social programme. Think of a dinner in the Aquarium, a presentation in the Butterfly Garden with a view of the Winter Garden, evening walks in the zoo, a morning run through the gardens or a festival-like experience on the Flamingo Square.”
“That’s how you connect people with each other and with nature. We call it beyond space. By offering something extra, a bit of experience, we go further than just renting out square metres.”
FMCCA’s social programme A Room with a ZOO revolves largely around the theme ‘Nature nurtures’.
“Nourishing nature is my favourite thing,” says Anja. “We need nature to function. Everyone knows this inside, but in this technologically advanced world we have become so far removed from nature that we need scientific reports to convince us.” And those reports don’t lie.
Anja: “Scientific research proves the healing power of nature. After an hour of walking in a natural environment, your cognitive skills increase by twenty percent. In other words, you better remember what’s being said. It also makes you more creative, and more social. This makes it easier to make contact with others, and interaction is one of the most important elements of a conference. We therefore stimulate professional conference organizers and association managers to include as many breaks as possible in their programme and to send their participants into our gardens.”
The value lies in meeting
With her ‘nature nurtures’ message, Anja wants to wake up the meeting & event industry a little, also in her new role as a board member of ICCA.
“I think it’s such a shame when conference organizers let people from all over the world fly to a location to sit inside all day long and watch presentations and then send them back home overtired. It would be better to organize a webinar or something instead.”
“The value of a conference or meeting is in meeting each other: people can look each other in the eye, build bridges and create trust. And don’t forget that all those flights are extremely bad for the environment. Don’t start doing things that you can consume better, more pleasant and more impactful at home; make sure that the live event takes centre stage, preferably in nature.”
Anja realizes it’s easy for her to say, with that great zoo around the corner. “Of course, what we have here is indeed unique. But any location can add a natural nurture element. I’m sure you have a garden? Bring plants inside! Project trees! Scientific research shows that even looking at wallpaper decorated with landscapes helps your brain relax, allowing you to process information better, so be creative!”
Contributions to nature conservation
Sustainability is another theme that Anja hopes the industry will start to embrace.
“As an industry, we leave an incredibly disastrous ecological footprint behind. Look at all the plastic, the advertising materials we use, all the food… not to mention the transport.”
“Together, we need to look at sustainable solutions. At Flanders Meeting & Convention Center Antwerp, we do our best, for example, by restricting the use of plastic, buying food locally where possible and using energy sparingly.”
“In addition, all profits will go to the ZOO Foundation. This is the foundation that runs ZOO Antwerp and everything related to it, such as a zoological research centre, research stations abroad and international conservation programmes. Any conference, meeting or anything else that is organized at FMCCA, contributes directly to nature conservation, animal welfare and zoological research. If you look at it that way, we’re actually far beyond space here!”