Over coffee with… Geoff Donaghy

The CEO of International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney tells Rebecca Elliott why the venue is pivitol to the city’s success in the MICE business

ICC Sydney opened to the public on October 22. What was the vibe among your staff in the lead up to the big day?

There was sheer excitement. All three years of planning and preparation had obviously paid off for us. They realised, even those new to the industry and that are very early on in their career, that it was an incredible privilege to be involved in the opening of one of the world’s major projects in our business.

How is the business pipeline looking?

We have around about 45 international conventions locked in from now till 2022. Some are as large as 8,000 and across all fields and industries. Working with our Bureau in Sydney, we have a pipeline of about 100 bids and expressions of interest.

International business is very strong. We’ve been working on this since we commenced the project in 2014 because of the lead-time and the intense competition. We started establishing awareness, confidence and trust that this building would open on time, and right from day one we’d be a world-class venue.

National business is very strong, more than we had expected. There’s a lot of pent up demand among national rotational business to come back to Sydney.

What impact will your venue have on Sydney’s MICE performance?

The marketplace has told us in our international marketing that if ICC Sydney was not the most exciting project happening anywhere in the world at the moment, it was certainly among the top three. That’s for a number of reasons. We have the privileged position of being the (venue) with all the latest innovations and technologies and the opportunity to be right downtown on Sydney’s spectacular Harbour and within walking distance of 7,000 to 8,000 hotel rooms.

You recently said at an Australian Tourism Export Council event that a visitor shouldn’t be siloed into any one segment. What did you mean by that?

We went through a period in our industry where we tried to establish that (business events) wasn’t part of tourism. But I always felt that was a shallow and immature argument because we share a whole lot of things with visitors. While our delegates are with us, they consider themselves on business, but their accompanying partners and families are here as leisure visitors and quite often delegates participate in pre- and post-tours, so we’d be far better served in taking a (single) visitor industry approach to the interests we share.

So how can the two industries work better together to increase visitation and spend?

The very first thing is to eliminate constraints like visas, investment policy at a state and federal level, and aviation policy. All these things would potentially affect anyone coming to Sydney (whether as an event delegate or as a holidaymaker). I think the business event industry needs to work closely with the broader visitor industry in that regard. This is where we collaborate with Destination NSW (New South Wales); being able to offer all the activities that people can undertake before and after a visit here (ICC Sydney). That really drives the incremental spending and economic impact.


Is there a particular destination that does this well?

Singapore has always been up there. It has the enormous advantage of being a sovereign city-state and it does this seamless attraction of visitors effectively and strategically. Kuala Lumpur is probably learning from Singapore and is really successful in that area too. A couple of the European cities do it well but they tend to have older infrastructure.

But ask anyone in the world that same question in the first six months of 2017 and the name that will spring to their lips will be Sydney. We’re already getting that. We think the world will be very much looking to Sydney (for benchmarks) in the future.

What role can your venue play in this?

You can’t be serious in this business until you build proper convention and exhibition facilities. You can’t be partly in this business just as you can’t be partly pregnant. So we have built one of the leading venues in the world in terms of capacity, innovation and capabilities, and combined that with the fact that Sydney is already Australia’s global city and the major gateway.

How do you think the Australian MICE market is faring compared to the rest of the world?

Australia is well served with first class infrastructure and it has always had a good understanding of the need for collective and collaborative marketing, as well as individual competition. The best measure is the annual ICCA rankings. Australia’s ranking has gone down over the years but that’s not because we’ve been doing worse – most of the numbers are growing. It’s just that so many other places are doing much better.

So many emerging destinations in Asia, the Middle East and India have invested significantly in new-builds or expansions. Australia needs to maintain its competitiveness and its active and aggressive marketing efforts.

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