Over coffee with Geoff Donaghy

Opened in December 2016, ICC Sydney is hauling back mega events for the harbour city. The venue’s CEO tells us what the winning formula is.

Geoff Donaghy

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit was held at your centre in March, and must be a great addition to ICC Sydney’s track record.
Something like that, at that high political level, will put incredible focus on the city and the venue because the ability to host such an event requires a high level of security, and this sends an important signal to the South-east Asian market about the capabilities of ICC Sydney.

Geoff Donaghy

How extensively was ICC Sydney used for the Summit?
There’s a lot of it that we can’t talk about, but we can say that the Summit took up the majority of our spaces. We planned it for about 12 months with various agencies, state authorities and federal government. It was a very important event for Australia, for Sydney and for the Centre.

Prior to the opening of ICC Sydney, a lot of mega-sized events were not able to be held in Sydney due to space limitations at the temporary venue. Now that you are open, and for a little more than a year, what’s happening?
Yes, Sydney went without a major venue for three years.

It was a very brave decision by the New South Wales government to let a private consortium build the new facility and operate it. I think people are now seeing that it was a very small price to pay to get this quality facility which is putting Sydney back on the world map.

The events we ran in our first year of operations, such as the 8,000-pax incentive out of China, demonstrated clearly that Sydney and the centre could host that level of (gatherings).

That’s the message we are taking to the market now.

Do you foresee the capabilities of ICC Sydney being the game-changer for the city as a business events venue?
Certainly, in terms of capacity. But it isn’t all about capacity. The fact that we’ve got three great theatres (for) 8,000 pax, 2,500 pax and 1,000 pax allows so many types of events to take place here.

Then there is also the great technology that we’ve been able to build into the facility, made possible since we designed the centre right from scratch. That technology is instrumental in winning us those larger events.

The building was designed to host concurrent events that are very well separated, so we have been able to also get multiple events of various sizes too.

What are some of the notable events coming into ICC Sydney?
For the balance of this year, probably the most high profile event is Sibos which will get us 6,000-plus delegates from the financial industry from all around the world.

The fact that Sydney has established a very important financial services hub in Barangaroo (sends) a very strong message that we are one of the world’s leading cities in that (specialisation).

(Sibos is especially important for us)as it made the decision to come to Sydney and to use ICC Sydney when the centre was still under construction.

We will also have the World Congress of Accountants later this year (in November) for 4,500 attendees.

The big events that we did in the first year, and will do this year and the next, were decided when the centre was still under construction. We had no word-of-mouth, no track record, yet people were still confident in us.

That track record and word-of-mouth is building up strongly, along with the work we do with Business Events Sydney, such as this roadshow (in March, covering Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore).

Some very large global events have decided to come and visit us, and we are going to see that interest grow, particularly when the track record and testimonials (go out).

In fact, a lot of IT business events that used to be held in Singapore are already moving over to Sydney.

A lot of your peers in Singapore must be worried!
(Laughs) As well as we are competitors, we are good friends. As you know, all venues know each other.

The client makes the choice, really. All we can do is to build the best possible venue, run it the best possible way and locate it in the best possible city. The client will make the choice on what works best for them.

ICC Sydney is part of AEG Ogden. Do you think the strong name of AEG Ogden had a part to play in instilling early confidence among your clients, even before they got to review the hardware?
Oh, most definitely. That was incredibly important for us in the pre-opening period in particular. The fact that so many events have been to other venues under AEG Ogden took the risk out of clients’ decision to hold their event at an untested venue like ours.

The AEG Ogden name has been instrumental in us getting so much business for the first year of operations.

Normally it takes three, four or five years for a new convention centre to build up that level of business that we had in our first year of operations.

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