CANBERRA — The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) appeared before the country's Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 earlier this month, represented by Dr Vanessa Findlay, BECA chair, and Andrew Hiebl, CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, to reinforce the case for ongoing support for Australia’s AU$35.7 billion (US$26 billion) business events industry and the 229,000 people it employs.
While support measures such as JobKeeper, the government's wage subsidy scheme, have been put in place to sustain the industry in the immediate term, BECA claims more support is needed amid ongoing state border closures and limitations on the size of gatherings.
At the hearing, Findlay called for targeted government support that will build confidence and create momentum for people to get back to in-person business events.
“We are continuing to work with Government in line with the recovery and rebound framework for the business events industry to drive industry specific support packages that will regain business confidence and drive momentum to see the return of business events,” she said.
According to BECA, domestic border restrictions impose the most significant challenge impeding the industry's recovery. To overcome this, BECA’s COVIDSafe Guidelines differentiate business events from mass gatherings and introduces measures that enable business events to occur in COVID safe environments. These guidelines provide confidence for the States and Territories to lift restrictions to enable the restart of business events, which will see our industry rebound, boost the whole visitor economy and restart the transfer of knowledge across all industries. Without face-to-face meetings none of this can happen.
Findlay said that BECA is also working with Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit, the National COVID-19 Commission and the insurance industry to resolve the issues that are undermining confidence in planning events.
During the Senate Committee, Findlay explained that industry stakeholders "haven’t been able to gain clarity from the insurance industry that an event that is cancelled as a result of a pandemic is actually covered. And, of course, that severely undermines the confidence of people to book an event and know that, if it’s cancelled as a result of government restrictions, they can cover costs”.
JobKeeper continues to be a vital lifeline for the business events industry with job losses predicted to exceed 90,000 before the wage subsidy scheme was introduced. It is now estimated that around 110,000 employees across the industry are being supported by JobKeeper which is supporting 96% of businesses to retain their employees.
Last year more than 480,000 business events were held in Australia. In a recent survey conducted by BECA, 67% of businesses said they don’t have any business events confirmed for 2020 and 48% of businesses said they don’t have any business events confirmed for 2021 either.
AACB CEO, Andrew Hiebl, said during the hearing, “While enquiry levels remain relatively high, risk of future lockdowns and restrictions imposed on business events by states and territories hit confidence and make it extremely difficult for organisers to sign supplier agreements and pay deposits. In addition, our industry has invested time and effort to develop COVID safe plans, but in many jurisdictions, are not able to enact them.”
Dr Findlay concluded her evidence to the Committee by outlining a program that is under development “for business events industry businesses to provide a level of support that they need about making decisions around sustainability and viability into the future”. Dr Findlay pointed out to the Committee that “we have now faced, close to zero revenue for six months. While it might be reasonable to expect a business to look after itself for that period of time anything beyond that is now very serious danger territory for every business in our industry”.