Snježana Dotlić: Dubrovnik is an Ideal Meeting Destination for International Scientific
Meetings Due to Air Connectivity and Congress Capacities
Snježana Dotlić: Dubrovnik is an Ideal Meeting Destination for International Scientific
Esteemed Croatian pathologist, Professor Snježana Dotlić, MD, Ph.D., is a member of the Executive Board of the European Association for Haematopathology (EA4HP) and the Chair of the Local Organizing Committee for the 22nd Meeting of the European Association for Haematopathology, which will be held in Dubrovnik from September 21st to 26th 2024.
Dubrovnik was supposed to host this significant event earlier, but due to the outbreak of the pandemic, it was shifted to a virtual format. Her efforts and dedication to nominate Dubrovnik as the host for that time and again for 2024 have been recognized by the Croatian Meeting Professionals Association (HUPKT), and she has been appointed as one of the Croatian Convention Ambassadors. On this occasion, we talked to her about what the destination's candidacy for such international conferences entails, how the pandemic affected the organization, and the preparations for the upcoming meeting, as well as what participants can expect from their visit to Dubrovnik.
• In the autumn of 2024, you are bringing the European Association for Haematopathology congress to Dubrovnik. Can you tell us more about the event itself, its significance in your field, the participants it attracts, and the expected number of attendees?
This congress is the most important scientific meeting in the field of haematological disease diagnostics, held every two years and organized by the European Association for Haematopathology (EA4HP) and the Society for Hematopathology (SH) in the USA. The congress features renowned hematopathologists, scientists, and molecular biologists from around the world as speakers, focusing on research into malignant haematological diseases, as well as clinical haematologists providing insights from their perspective as physicians in direct contact with patients. The scientific discussions and conclusions from these congresses often serve as a basis for the development of fundamental documents used in clinical practice, such as new tumour classifications by the World Health Organization. Moreover, they raise new questions and pave the way for new scientific research, contributing to the design of international clinical studies that lead to significant changes in therapeutic approaches for patients with lymphomas and leukaemia. Active participants who regularly attend and present their research findings include pathologists and scientists at different stages of their careers, from young specialist colleagues aspiring to build a career in hematopathology to experienced hematopathologists and globally recognized authorities in this field of medicine.
Last year, we held the 21st EA4HP-SH congress in Florence, with around 1,000 participants from all the continents. Most of them participated in person, while approximately three hundred colleagues joined online. We were proud of its incredible success. Given the uncertainties following the pandemic and the radical changes in travel planning and the organization of major congresses, it is difficult to predict, but we expect a similar number of participants in Dubrovnik.
Technology is an amazing thing, but there is no substitute for the experiences that come with attending a live congress
• The mentioned conference was supposed to take place in Dubrovnik in 2020 but was cancelled due to the pandemic and held online. How did it affect you as a local organizer, what did the cancellation entail, and did you participate in organizing the virtual event? What was the response and experience of the participants compared to live events?
It is difficult to describe the level of stress and disappointment we experienced when, following the news, during weekly teleconferences of the Executive Board, we discussed how each passing day diminished the possibility of holding the 20th EA4HP-SH congress that we had been planning for years and worked intensively on for the last two years in the announced timeframe and desired destination. In the end, it became clear that there was no possibility of holding the congress in person, but we had to deliver the program we had announced and present the results of the case analyses we had received from colleagues worldwide. One of the most attractive parts of this congress is the workshop in which ten experts discuss interesting cases from practice that can be submitted by all registered participants. The cases are sent to the local organizer, and before the pandemic, my hospital in Zagreb received more than 300 packages with specimens, which was one of the highest response rates we have seen so far. This demonstrates the enthusiasm of colleagues who intended to attend the congress in Croatia.
I also participated in organizing the postponed congress, which took place online in April 2021 instead of 2020. Transitioning from the usual live format required various adjustments, from the length of individual presentations to recording invited lectures and other presentations, as well as organizing live chat rooms for discussions that were streamed after reading the questions participants asked through the online platform. After the tremendous work preceding the online congress, we were pleased to have successfully presented a very interesting program, and the response and number of registered participants were surprisingly high (around 800). The feedback mainly praised the scientific and professional program, but there was also disappointment that we lost the opportunity that year for direct interaction and networking, which are meaningful and leave a lasting impact when done in person. Technology is a phenomenal thing, but there is no substitute for the experiences that come with traveling to another country, exploring new cities, and sharing moments with dear colleagues.
Dubrovnik: The first host of the EA4HP-SH congress in Central Eastern Europe
• Why did you choose Dubrovnik as the host city? What advantages of Dubrovnik over other global destinations did you emphasize during the candidacy? What do you think prevailed for Dubrovnik to win the bid?
The decision on the candidacy is largely based on the status within the international scientific community. Once it was confirmed that Croatia would host the congress, we chose Dubrovnik due to its proximity to the airport and good international connectivity (one of the most important factors when deciding to organize such events), as well as the meetings and accommodation capacities in Dubrovnik's hotels. At the time of the decision, the congress hall of the Valamar Lacroma Hotel was the only one in Croatia with a capacity for more than 1,000 participants that met all the important requirements. Moreover, it is important to mention that this congress has never been organized in Central Eastern Europe before, and I believe that the policy of the then EA4HP presidency played a significant role in bringing this prestigious scientific meeting closer to the eastern parts of Europe, from which a relatively small number of colleagues actively participate in the scientific activities of the international hematopathology community.
• How long does the preparation of the candidacy for this type of event take, and what does it entail?
The bidding process for these congresses begins 4-6 years before the actual event. It may seem like a long time, but it is due to the unique format of the congress, which spans six days and includes various workshops, symposia, plenary lectures, and special educational sessions. Potential local organizers present their bids at the General Assembly of the Society (usually at the end of the fourth day of the congress), and after a vote based on the recommendation of the EA4HP President, the final decision is announced.
Collaboration with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board's Convention Bureau is of immense help to the local organizer
• During the preparation and organization, you collaborated with the Convention Bureau of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board. To what extent and in what ways does this collaboration assist you?
Collaboration with the Convention Bureau of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board has been of immense help to the local organizers. As the European Society for Hematopathology has a long-term contract with a global 'core PCO' agency that handles the complete organization of our congresses, and since we don't have a local PCO agency that can take on a significant part of the organization and on-site work, I am extremely grateful for the excellent cooperation with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board. I would like to express my special thanks to Romana Vlašić and her team for their great assistance in organizing inspection visits, which I had to conduct twice due to specific circumstances, as well as their contacts and advice regarding the selection of potential locations for social events. I am delighted that, as a local organizer, I can suggest and have an influence on the choice of venues for conference dinners and other social events.
• In addition to the professional program, what will the congress participants have the opportunity to see and experience in Dubrovnik?
While not all locations have been confirmed yet, as the congress will take place in September 2024, some of the most attractive sites in the historic city centre are in the final selection. These include the Sponza Palace, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Copacabana Beach, where we are planning to hold the gala dinner. As over 95 percent of the participants will be foreigners, we will provide recommendations for day trips or longer excursions in Dubrovnik and its surroundings, which will be an excellent opportunity to promote the destination. Based on the numerous inquiries I have received so far, there is great interest among colleagues in exploring the beauty of this part of Europe. I must admit that I was surprised to learn that most participants have never visited Croatia. I am confident that they will enjoy their experience.
• Thanks to this congress and your involvement in organizing professional events in general, you have been appointed as a Croatian Convention Ambassador. How much does this title mean to you personally and professionally, and what specific advantages does it bring?
I was delighted to be recognized by professionals in the tourism sector as a potential convention ambassador, and I gladly accepted the role. It has always been a pleasure for me to promote Croatia as an attractive meeting destination among my colleagues in the business and scientific communities. Now, as a convention ambassador, I must admit that I am considering this responsibility more seriously, and I already have plans for potential future international projects.

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