A promising restart to business events

Tourism Australia’s executive general manager commercial & business events Australia, Robin Mack, gives the lowdown on Australia's domestic event situation, its fervent preparation in welcoming international business events when the gates open, and how it plans to stand out as a strong destination for MICE on the global stage

Australia has been one of the most locked down countries in the world for most of the pandemic. What has the journey been like for business events in Australia this year?
It’s certainly been a challenging year for the Australian business events industry. Earlier in the year however we saw a positive shift in domestic sentiment, with face-to-face events resuming across the country.

The Victorian Tourism Conference 2021 achieved 900 delegates in April, while OzWater’21 hosted more than 2,500 delegates at the Adelaide Convention Centre in May. Tourism Australia’s own 2021 Australian Tourism Exchange ‘live’ event at the ICC Sydney was attended by more than 1,400 delegates.

Our most recent domestic corporate sentiment research, which surveyed respondents in May, indicated that business confidence in holding events was gaining momentum. However, the recent lockdowns in some parts of Australia due to the pandemic has had a significant impact once again on business events in Australia, with industry feedback suggesting domestic events being postponed until the end of the year and into early 2022.

On a positive note, we continue to have new leads coming in from our key international markets and wins through our Bid Fund Program which suggests that Australia’s desirability as a business events destination remains positive.

What are Australia’s plans to restart business events domestically in 2022?
For domestic, we’re continuing the delivery of our marketing activity, partnership programmes, as well as our research on domestic corporate sentiment. Earlier in the year, we announced an additional A$1 million (US$735,030) in funding for our Business Events Boost Program to continue to provide Australia’s business events industry with marketing and distribution support that will help convert domestic business events during the financial year 2021-22.

As a result, we will be supporting 64 partnerships this financial year across a variety of projects including asset creation, event promotion and delegate boosting, marketing campaigns, educational trips and client showcases, digital projects and promotion of key industry events in 2021-22.

We recently launched an industry vaccination initiative, It’s Our Best Shot For Events. And when the time is right, we will also launch the latest evolution of the Event Here This Year campaign to showcase the breadth and quality of Australia’s business events offering and encourage domestic corporates to get back to holding business events.

The Prime Minister of Australia has released Australia’s plan for reopening to the world, which indicates international travel has reopened to Australian citizens and residents who are fully vaccinated.

We are thrilled to see our borders starting to reopen, and hope that we will be welcoming back international business events in the near future. This is a positive and crucial step towards the recovery of the business events industry.

This is great news. What have you been doing to gear up for international events returning?
In our international markets, we continue to drive future demand through our distribution activity including a mixture of face-to-face, hybrid and virtual engagement, as well as through our content marketing initiatives such as Australia Next, our incentive publication for business events planners that is distributed to key international markets.

The Business Events Bid Fund Program, which received an additional A$3 million in funding to cover new pledges and bids for an additional 12 months throughout 2021-22, continues to drive conversion for international business events. As of September 30, 2021, 50 events have been won via the Business Events Bid Fund Program worth A$390 million.

Continuing the success of our Advance Program, this year the programme will focus on tailored and strategic partnerships with Australian industries that are actively bidding for international business events. These partnerships continue to help keep Australia front of mind.

What or where do you see the biggest challenges and opportunities for these plans?
As a destination, the challenge continues to be to ensure we stay front of mind and in the consideration set for business events planners while they can’t visit.

The good news is that we recently conducted new international research, the Business Events Consumer Demand Project, to help inform our business events strategy and activity.

What we discovered is that the sentiment is largely positive and optimistic for the future of the business events industry, with the majority of decision-makers across both the association and incentive sector indicating that the number of events held post-pandemic will be the same or greater and the available budget will increase.

In addition, the research suggests that once travel is unrestricted, organisations are ready to do something significant to acknowledge all that’s happened, and they will have the funds to do so from not running face-to-face events for some time.

There is a real opportunity for Australia to benefit from this sentiment – especially among those who see Australia as a bucket list destination. Supporting this sentiment, the research showed Australia has a strong reputation for excellent business events facilities, world-class beauty and natural environments, a range of accommodation options and local attractions, clean cities and good infrastructure and an appealing climate.

It is expected to be super-competitive when borders do begin to re-open. Does Australia have a strategy for standing out and winning business?
We certainly expect that it will be super competitive between destinations as travel resumes. We’ve been working behind the scenes throughout the pandemic on our reopening strategy, and developing a suite of recovery projects to ensure Australia is optimally positioned for reopening.

The insights and findings from the Business Events Consumer Demand Project as well as from our Customer Advisory Panels, which we hold regularly in our key markets, guide our strategy in preparation for when international travel starts again.

We have a line-up of innovative creative projects and customer engagement initiatives being delivered this financial year. We know it’s important that we stay front of mind and connected with our valued business events planners, and we can’t wait to welcome them back to Australia for their next event.

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