CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB), Andrew Hiebl, said the outright cancelling of 200 international meetings because of Covid-19 has cost the country upwards of AUD$300 million (US$155 million) in delegate spend alone.
Commenting on the release of its January 2021 International Business Events Forward Calendar this month, Hiebl said that without a clear pathway to the reopening of Australia’s international borders, business events as a catalyst to driving travel, innovation,
trade and the growth of industries cannot occur.
“If we are not in a position to host these premium events in Australia, others will be,” he said.
The AACB’s latest report was a sobering reminder of the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the country and comes at a time when just some 12 months ago, Australia was advised it had moved up to 12th global spot for hosting international association
Hiebl added that while Australian convention bureaus had done "exceptionally well" in working to postpone 70% of its 318 confirmed future international business events — these postponements cannot be maintained indefinitely.
Already, 200 international meetings have been cancelled resulting in the loss of 75,000 high value overseas visitor arrivals for Australia’s capital and regional cities.
Key numbers in the report:
• 318 business events confirmed to 2027
• 222 postponed events
• 334,276 domestic and international delegates confirmed to 2027
• 167,847 domestic and international delegates postponed
• AUD$963,133,170 total
delegate spend expected for events confirmed to 2027
• Loss of AUD$469,423,072 total delegate spend for postponed events
Hiebl also said while there is now stronger domestic meetings activity, it is in no way close to covering the significant losses being felt because of zero international meetings business.
And this will not change until the opening of international borders.
“You recognise that there are going to be cancellations because the international borders are closed but until you see a number as a result of this research and learn that 200 international meetings have been cancelled, it really smacks you in the face,”
“You think about the amount of hours and work and years that have gone into securing these meetings for Australia — all competitive bids that Australia won — and that really hits you hard.
“Thinking of the work the venues, the bureaus and the conference organisers have done to secure these for Australia, it’s terribly hard to comprehend that they are now lost.”
Some light ahead?
A small light at the end of the tunnel has emerged thanks to the trans-Tasman bubble which took off on 19 April, with event
professionals indicating higher enquiries for meetings and incentives than they have been in more
than 12 months.
Still, Hiebl is not confident that a limited number of international border openings will have a significant impact on Australia’s short-term prospects for hosting international meetings.
“The challenge for business events is the concept of lead time. You can’t bid for and try to organise an event on the hopes that people will be able to travel again. You can only start planning that only when borders are open to all of the countries where
delegates will be travelling from,” he said.
“New Zealand is open [to Australia] at the moment and Singapore looks likely to be next, and there may be some other Southeast Asia countries that could come onboard but until those signals are made by government then the Australian business events industry
really has its hands tied.
“Opening of some international travel routes would create some opportunities but the challenge for the big international association conferences is that they can’t be run in Australia until we’re open to the majority of the world. You can’t do it half-heartedly.
“Australia is regarded very highly in terms of our Covid management and I do believe that once some of those travel bubbles open you might see the start of the incentive travel market and some international corporate meetings but certainly not the large
international association meetings.”
The changing role of convention bureaus
Meanwhile, Hiebl anticipates a small pivot for convention bureaus, believing that they will be seen by their various funding stakeholders, including government, as being able to assist in the recovery of the tourism sector.
“In the long-term I think there will be a much bigger reliance on bureaux to assist with broader economic recovery. That means the bureau will focus on bidding for international meetings in sectors that are an economic priority for their local and state
governments and key stakeholders.
“This is what was happening pre-Covid and I do see that it will be a focus again, and even a stronger one in the future.”