Australian convention centres innovate during pandemic, ready to welcome future delegates

One of MCEC's new commercial partnerships has led to THE LUME making the convention centre its permanent home. Photo: Adelaine Ng

Australia’s convention centres are emerging as reinvented versions of themselves, adding layers to the term “hybrid” as they prepare to receive more international delegates in the coming months as borders reopen.

Venues like the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) told TTGmice that they’ve been hard at work during the pandemic and are today a different and more attractive proposition for visitors.

One of MCEC’s new commercial partnerships has led to THE LUME making the convention centre its permanent home. Photo: Adelaine Ng

“The world has changed and we have changed internally to accommodate that,” said MCEC’s CEO Peter King. “When people arrive here, they are going to be seeing a different use of spaces and have different conversations around how the wow experience can be maximised. A lot of work has gone into it and I think they’re going to find it’s a very positive environment to do business.”

Some of the key changes for MCEC include a rebrand as the home of the unconventional, and a greater focus on commercial partnerships as affirmed with the hiring of its first chief commercial officer, Melissa Sweetland.

An alliance with art and culture company Grande Experiences, for instance, has made MCEC the permanent home of THE LUME, an immersive digital gallery and event space featuring the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh. Open to the public daily, the space was showcased to delegates at the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME) last month.

Other collaborations have included partnerships that turned exhibition bays into Australia’s first indoor drive-in cinema, as well as hosting a movie production starring Hollywood actor Liam Neeson.

When asked about potential business, King indicated there was much interest stemming from Europe and the US, with business from Asia “patchy” in the current environment.

Meanwhile, ICC Sydney has put increased focus on the outdoors. Its reimagined spaces encourage organisers to extend their networking opportunities beyond the convention centre’s walls to take advantage of the panoramic views across Darling Harbour and the iconic Sydney CBD skyline.

Inside the venue, Self-Guided Art Tours have been updated along with new partnerships and “broadened experiences” through its Legacy Program that offers event organisers additional ways to reach their CSR objectives. A Connect Hub service has also been launched to offer speakers more preparation support for complex programme delivery in hybrid environments.

“We’ve maintained close relationships and partnerships with our clients over the past two years,” said ICC Sydney’s CEO Geoff Donaghy. “In many instances, our advice has helped our customers to navigate the rocky road of health restrictions and guidelines, and the need to have a scenario plan for unexpected changes. We’re currently enjoying a customer service satisfaction rating of 100 per cent.”

Without providing numbers, ICC Sydney said their pipeline of international business in 2023 and 2024 is looking “impressive”.

The Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) has also added to its outdoor offering, a necessary pivot in its ability to stay open during the pandemic while navigating constant changes.

“Over the past two years it has been an ongoing challenge to meet ever-changing health and operating mandates, sometimes within hours during an event,” said Adrienne Readings, GCCEC’s general manager and CEO.

“There has certainly been increased focus on the use of our outdoor terraces and lawns for catering and networking functions, and we’ve also introduced new wellness menus.”

Readings elaborated planners are now looking towards convention centres as they offer “more space”, and have “higher ceilings and good ventilation”.

“We are now experiencing a lot of activity from internationals looking to contract events that were in the pipeline. With the official opening of borders, we will be relaunching our international bid support programme later this year (too),” she added.

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