Event organisers in Australia and New Zealand are not hanging their hats on a reopening of the international borders between Australia and New Zealand. At least not yet.
“The main focus for our members going into next year is the domestic market,” said Barry Neame, president of the Professional Conference Organisers Australia (PCOA).
“Travel bubbles to New Zealand are not such a high priority for the first two quarters of 2021 — due to the level of uncertainty [surrounding international border openings]."
Across the Tasman, Lisa Hopkins, chief executive of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ), has also mirrored the comment, indicating that the organisation has “changed course" to focus on the domestic market.
“Focus and attention to the domestic market has become a priority and that has enabled organisers to consider new destinations within New Zealand they may not have considered previously, like Hawkes Bay, Southland and Marlborough."
Nevertheless, Hopkins said an alliance between CINZ and the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) has been mutually beneficial. “We have both learnt much from each other, given the various stages of our countries and the political forces at play.”
Australia is currently allowing New Zealanders to visit only one state and one territory – New South Wales and the Northern Territory – without having to undergo 14-day hotel quarantine, but these New Zealanders visiting Australia will face hotel quarantine at their own expense when they return home.
On the flip side, Australians are not be able to travel to New Zealand at all under the current travel bubble arrangements.
Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand say they haven’t seen a huge demand for trans-Tasman flights.
Qantas Group executive, Andrew Parker, speaking at a Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) Australia webinar, said the biggest single frustration for the airline was the way Covid-19 risks were being managed.
“It’s impossible to imagine that no state, territory or country is going to be able to run an open economy without some degree of risk.
“Airlines, aviation, tourism and transport operators live with risk every single day. We wouldn’t fly a single aircraft if the policy was zero risk. That risk might be quarantine, immigration, security or operational.”
Arna Wahl Davies, founder and director of Christchurch-based conference organiser Composition says there is great excitement for a travel bubble between New Zealand and states in Australia “when it is viable”.
“But at the same time, we are realistic that this may be some time away. As a company we are focusing on plans for both a domestic, as well as a trans-Tasman scenario planning.
“Our Level-1 [Covid] status enables us to successfully manage and run domestic events. This is something that we are proud of and wish to maintain, to ensure that conferences can be held with no number restrictions in New Zealand.”
Hybrid helps, but not a miracle cure
A member survey at the beginning of October by PCO Australia found the number one barrier faced by both conference owners and business events organisers in 2021, is uncertainty regarding future Covid-19 outbreaks and a corresponding tightening of travel and gathering restrictions.
This is closely followed by financial risk, which will translate into boards being hesitant to commit to holding a business event.
The PCOA survey further revealed that 57% business events by organisers and 25% business events by owners have already cancelled, postponed or moved to 100% virtual for the first half of 2021.
PCOA members have pivoted to hybrid meetings although for Queensland event management company, YRD, the hybrid model has been “a little disappointing”, according to managing director Mary Sparksman.
“Hybrid meetings haven’t been going as well as we hoped,” she said. “People are still not that confident about going out.”
“We have a hybrid event planned for 31-31 October, where we are expecting 35 to 50 attendees in Sydney but so far, we only have eight registrations. These are doctors and medical staff who are out and about in hospitals every day but are still not confident with meeting face-to-face.”
The challenge of organising hybrid meetings can also prove daunting. “For instance, because our October event is Australia-wide, we've had to prepare Covid-19 plans for five different destinations,” Sparksman said.