Australia takes the hybrid route as lockdowns cripple business

Corporate business keeps FCM afloat with record number of new accounts; CWT see spike in requests for support

Melbourne has successfully rescheduled 70% of events planned for 2020.
Melbourne has successfully rescheduled 70% of events planned for 2020.

MELBOURNE — Australia’s MICE industry is preparing a new way of doing business as it negotiates the wipe-out of 2020 events.

“We are seeing increasing appetite in Asian markets for corporate, incentive and meeting information and a swing toward hybrid events – a mix of live and virtual, as an interim measure in the European and USA association sector,” says Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) chief executive, Julia Swanson.

MCB said it is responding to demand by re-organising some products and services to deliver them digitally.

It’s a similar story in Sydney where Business Events Sydney (BE Sydney) CEO Lyn Lewis Smith said when business does come back, “it will happen in a different way”. She said hybrid meetings will be part of the mix.

In Melbourne, the MCB has been working closely with clients to delay or postpone their business events, rather than cancel.

“We’ve had success here, with 70% of planned events rescheduled to next year,” Swanson said.

“This has been achieved with thanks to our partner venues, accommodation providers and services being flexible with their cancellation policies and working hard to fit the postponed events into next year’s calendar.”

MCB says it is continuing to identify, negotiate and secure the business events pipeline spanning out as far as 2028. “This side of the business remains largely unaffected,” Swanson added.

BE Sydney’s regional director Asia, Sinead Yeo, says a renewed campaign will focus on bespoke experiences.
BE Sydney’s regional director Asia, Sinead Yeo, says a renewed campaign will focus on bespoke experiences.

Sinead Yeo, BE Sydney’s regional director Asia, said a renewed campaign into the Asian market is being planned for post-Covid “to ensure that we are ready to launch at a time when appropriate for each market”.

“Traditionally, our clients have looked for big hero activities when visiting Sydney. We are now working with our partners and the industry to look at more bespoke experiences that will really appeal, especially to repeat clients that have visited Sydney before,” Yeo said.

Business at Sydney International Convention Centre (ICC) has been “crippled”, says CEO Geoff Donaghy. “In a few short weeks our sector – worth A$35.7 billion (US$25.4bn) a year to Australia’s economy – shutdown, impacting businesses and livelihoods up and down the supply chain and across the country.”

Donaghy is especially mindful of the impact of the lockdown on ICC’s suppliers. “For example, we work with over 135 food, drink and wine suppliers to showcase the best of Australian produce to our guests.

“It’s with great sadness that, as a result of the impact of COVID-19, we have not been able to purchase from our local producers. It is devastating to think of the effect our situation is now having on these businesses and their people. Unfortunately, our industry is facing a long road to recovery,” Donaghy said.

ICC Sydney has developed a dual on-site and virtual event solution.
ICC Sydney has developed a dual on-site and virtual event solution. Photo Credit: ICC Sydney

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, and Australia’s international and state borders began to close, ICC staff worked to develop a dual on-site and virtual event solution.

"The Hybrid Event Solutions allow clients to host attendees here on site, and in accordance with strict social distancing measures, whilst also live streaming to an unlimited number of remote attendees,” Donaghy said.

ICC Sydney is working with of Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) and Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s Tourism Restart Taskforce alongside, Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) and Meeting & Events Australia (MEA), to ensure the industry’s recovery remains front of mind with decision makers.

Said Donaghy: “This includes a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the challenges we collectively face and joining my colleagues to develop the coordinated industry response – the Covid-19 Business Events Response and Recovery Framework.

"The key aim is to sustain the business events sector over the next 12 months, building a strong position from which to rebound and grow on the other side of this crisis.

“While the world might have got used to Zoom calls for now, nothing can replace the value exchange of coming together and meeting in person.”

Perth hosted Tourism Australia's Dreamtime incentive in December 2019.
Perth hosted Tourism Australia's Dreamtime incentive in December 2019. Photo Credit: Tourism Australia

Elsewhere, Business Events Perth has secured the world’s largest marine mammal conference for December 2023. BE Perth chief executive, Gareth Martin, said hosting the 25th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals “comes at a crucial time for the local business events industry, which has been impacted significantly by the coronavirus pandemic”.

Perth’s bid was supported by Tourism Australia’s Business Events Bid Fund Programme, which is designed to help revive the domestic business events sector in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis and drive new business to regions around Australia.

The programme provides convention bureaus, convention centres, professional conference organisers and event managers with the opportunity to leverage the agency’s expertise and help win new domestic business.

Corporate travel groups proceed with caution

For the Flight Centre Travel Group, corporate travel business has largely fuelled the company’s revenue generation during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

In a 13 August statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, FCTG boss Graham Turner said, “We have continued to win a record amount of new corporate accounts, while generating an underlying corporate profit during FY20.

“This highlights both our corporate business’s resilience and its strong future growth prospects in this large, global travel sector.”

New accounts with annual spends in order of $US1.3 billion were secured by Flight Centre Travel Solutions (FCM) during FY20 with the majority of these wins coming during the second half.

CWT Meetings and Events says while it has seen a spike in client requests for support with virtual meetings and events, in recent weeks many of CWT’s clients in Australia have been pushing for face-to-face meetings over virtual meetings, wherever possible.

“Unfortunately, the situation remains quite fluid and restrictions are changing daily and so naturally there is still a sense of caution,” says Michelle Sargent, director, Australia/New Zealand, CWT Meetings & Events.

“Still, we are seeing positive signs amongst our clients in Australia, with corporates starting to make domestic event arrangements and enquiries for Q4 2020.

“Companies are starting to rethink their meeting strategies for the last quarter of this year and for next year, to ensure they’re able to secure the venues and accommodation of their choice.”

CWT says it has had some good-sized group enquiries coming through in key markets.

“Interestingly, planners are keen to take business out of the city centres, so they can provide attendees with a change in scenery and support regional economies at the same time,” says Sargent.

“We’ve been presenting clients with ideas based on initiatives such as “farm to plate” and “empty esky”, which have been gaining a lot of traction. The main challenge thus far has been finding hotels that can accommodate bigger groups in some of these locations.”

CWT says the quickest pick-up has been in sectors which have been less impacted by the pandemic, such as companies within the logistics and home delivery sectors, who are looking to accelerate recruitment.

“Many online businesses like e-commerce and tech companies are also thriving, and of course many pharmaceutical and healthcare businesses are busy with all the demand created from the Covid-19 pandemic.,” says Sargent.

“Some of these companies are already thinking about incentives for employees and channel partners for when restrictions begin to ease.

“That said, even as restrictions ease, a lot will be different for meetings and events post-Covid, at least in the near- to mid-term.

CWT expects group sizes will be much smaller and meetings shorter.

“We expect virtual and hybrid events will form a more significant part of a company’s meetings and events strategy moving forward, with digital channels being used to extend the reach of live events,” adds Sargent.

“At the end of the day, the safety of our clients’ attendees and of our own employees is of paramount importance. We are not only adhering to guidance from governments, but also working closely with our preferred hotel, transport and other partners to ensure they are taking the necessary heightened safety measures and precautions before we recommend and book.”

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