Australian states resist June reopening, business events look to September restart

Queensland is one of the Australian states that may not even reopen domestically until perhaps September
  • Staggered state borders reopening throw wrench into domestic MICE plans
  • Stakeholders believe industry will find its footing by September
  • Strong message needed from venues to instil confidence in planners and attendees
Queensland (its capital Brisbane pictured) is one of the Australian states that may not even reopen domestically until perhaps September

State leaders of South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmania are continuing to lock down their borders, putting the brakes on hopes of an imminent revival in domestic interstate travel as new Covid-19 cases dwindle.

The situation may also have implications for the business events sector, which relies on long lead times and certainty of lifted travel and meeting restrictions.

“It is difficult and it’s something that we are struggling with,” admitted Claudia Sagripanti, CEO of Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia.

“I wouldn’t call it a setback but there’s a challenge in Australia with the different state regulations that we can’t ignore,” she told TTGmice.

Nevertheless, industry leaders say domestic events will start happening within weeks, which will build confidence within the sector for more corporate gatherings to take place.

“Special events like weddings or awards nights will be ready to go, I would say from July onwards,” said Sagripanti. “Some of the major tradeshows and consumer shows will probably need a longer lead time but a lot of the venues I know have used this hibernation to do deep cleaning, restructure their kitchens, review menus and train staff on safe food handling. Hence, many organisers are ready.”

Noting the inconsistent state border reopening timelines, ICC Sydney CEO Geoff Donaghy, also a member of the Tourism Restart Taskforce, expected business events to start running in September, with confidence that interstate borders would be well and truly lifted by then.

“The agenda that we’re pursuing (with the government) is very cohesive coming from the industry, presenting solutions and options targeted at getting our events back and running in September,” said Donaghy. “If we get some indication that that could happen, then organisers could start their planning processes and work towards that date and that end.”

Queensland’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has indicated the state’s borders will remain shut until September, citing advice from the state’s medical authorities. It may lead to a scenario where residents in open border states can travel to New Zealand under a trans-Tasman bubble arrangement before they can travel to Queensland.

Still, Australian industry leaders say their months of advocacy with government authorities are beginning to pay off, with Sagrapanti noticing a shift in tone from state and national decision-makers.

“There has been a change in sentiment from the government. The drive has been coming less from the health department because they understand there are safety and hygiene protocols in place, and more from the economic drivers,” she said.

“For example in Western Australia we’ve seen, particularly in the last week, that they are willing to review the four square meter rule, dropping it to two square meters and that will make it more economically viable for venues to (re)open”.

But there are other hurdles apart from reopening borders that the industry needs to address, according to Donaghy. “It’s important to point out that there’s a journey of confidence and trust for not just for our clients, but for the delegates, attendees and exhibitors who make up those events as well,” he said.

“There has to be very, very strong messaging to the market that all the elements that make up the journey of someone deciding to attend a conference or trade exhibition have been addressed. They have to have confidence in the hotels they’ll be staying in, the venues where those events will take place, and the transport systems. Otherwise, we will be governed by the weakest link of confidence and trust in that chain,” he stated.

At press time, there is now also mounting pressure on state governments to reopen their borders and allow for larger numbers to gather after tens of thousands took part in Black Lives Matter street protests across the country, most wearing masks.

Australia’s health authorities are expected to meet today (June 8) to discuss easing lockdown restrictions to stage three, which allows for gatherings of up to 100 people.

For updates on the reopening of borders, check Tourism Australia’s interactive travel status map here.

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