Rebecca Elliott speaks with the new CEO of the Canberra Convention Bureau, Michael Matthews, who has returned to Australia after 15 years in Canada to take on the role
From Canada to Canberra – why the move back?
Canada is an amazing destination with a really strong tourism brand. I loved living there and certain aspects of it, but the idea of coming home has always been strong. I thought after 15 years there I could bring some of the ideas from North America that I’ve learnt back to Australia.
What’s your vision for the MICE market in Canberra?
The national associations market is a competitive space that we want to continue to maintain our presence in.
But the recognition now is that we have very strong leisure products when considering food and wine and also since we’ve got nature on our doorstep. A lot of those elements are very
complementary to the incentive and associations market. So as we look to Asia, we can package these products and sell to markets in the nation and overseas.
And now, with direct international flights into Canberra, we have more credibility to go into international markets.
The next step is building product awareness. As the nation’s capital, we can leverage that and communicate how we add to the travel experience with our cultural institutions and by being a serious player in this part of the world.
We want to change the conversation and highlight our CBR brand, which is about being Confident, Bold and Ready, a vibrant idea of what it means to visit Canberra. It’s not about what Canberra once was. As soon as we can get people here, it changes their perception and they become an advocate for our destination.
What can you draw from your experience in Canada to assist you in your new role
Canada, particularly where I came from, is very seasonal. Although this isn’t much of an issue in Canberra, we have some significant periods where we need to fill some gaps. That’s what they do really well in America – they’ve got year-round business despite much greater seasonality extremes.
The other thing we worked on there was product development. Here, we are looking to fine-tune some of our products and repackage them to grow our destination offerings.
How do you think the Australian MICE market is faring compared to the rest of the world?
Australia has such a strong leisure brand and that’s very much an aspirational product. But there’s more to our brand than leisure. We need to focus on the business events side and our knowledge community – what we’re good at.
What we have going in Canberra is our smart community. Our Think Canberra strategy ties together cultural and learning institutions, and Australia can likewise focus on centres of excellence. These would add much more value to the conference experience, a reason to host in Australia.
What are some of the opportunities and challenges moving forward?
When you look at the nation’s capital just getting international flights, that’s a fantastic opportunity and something that we need to continue to grow.
Visas are a challenge for sure and the rest of the destinations are super competitive. They’ve acknowledged growth opportunities and are working to promote their brands. As for us, we are an aspirational brand, so we really need to tell the story about business events adding new dollars to the economy and through that, gain support to grow our business events infrastructure.
How’s the global economy affecting MICE in Australia and Canberra in particular
Many are rubbing their hands excited about the Australian dollar being strong compared to their dollar and they see that as an opportunity.
It’s a shortsighted view as these movements are cyclical. There are immediate opportunities but it’s not something we can rely on. I think we need to focus on value for money here irrespective of where the dollar is.
What can industry players do to remain buoyant?
I think we need to continue to reinvest in product and people, as well as focus on the level of professionalism that our service providers are able to deliver, while keeping our authenticity for genuine Australian hospitality.
We are already on the radar as an aspirational destination but we really have to have a destination-first approach. You look at competitive destinations and they tend to be single-city destinations or smaller countries. Our strength is the diversity we have to offer, but we need to make sure we are out in the market and focus on collaborating. Where it (the conference) goes in Australia is less importan