Come meet with us, Australia is ready for the world

Business Events Australia and industry heads talk confidence, the competitive edge, and why returning groups can expect experiences that are "second to none".

Australia will continue to prioritise South and South East Asia for the incentive sector. Pictured: Amway Diamond Conference 2018
Australia will continue to prioritise South and South East Asia for the incentive sector. Pictured: Amway Diamond Conference 2018 Photo Credit: Amway/Business Events Australia

February 2022 marks a watershed moment for Australia — finally lifting nearly two years of hard border restrictions starting 21 February to fully-vaccinated international travellers, and Western Australia joining on 3 March to welcome triple-vaccinated foreigners.

But perhaps the loudest cheer comes from the business events industry, the first to be shut down following the first National Cabinet meeting in March 2020 when the pandemic unravelled.

At the recently wrapped inaugural Get Local expo from 15-16 February — Australia's first in-person international business event exhibition in two years — the resounding consensus was that people are ready, willing and able to get back together for face-to-face events.

And while leisure travel may pick up speed faster than business events, Gareth Martin, CEO of Business Events Perth expects the latter "won’t be far behind," pointing to the 51 confirmed business events booked for 2022 through 2027, and a further 64 bids submitted pending destination decisions.

"Business Events Perth has supported 353 local business events across the State over the last two years, so you can be sure that the event experience on offer in Western Australia remains second to none," adds Martin.

This determination to get the industry's wheels moving again is also showing clearly ahead of the upcoming Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME) from 21-23 March. Nearly all of Australia’s Convention Bureaux will be participating, with organisers already anticipating a spike in attendance when the event opens at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre (MCEC).

Industry stalwart and MCEC Chief Executive, Peter King isn't surprised, noting that news of border opening will effect a "feeling of growing optimism amongst event organisers, venues, suppliers and employees — a confidence [that] is essential to securing the future of our industry, and something we should all feel at this point".

The sold-out Welcome Event at Get Local, the first in-person international business event exhibition held in Australia in almost two years.
The sold-out Welcome Event at Get Local, the first in-person international business event exhibition held in Australia in almost two years.

According to Robin Mack, Executive General Manager, Commercial & Business Events Australia (BEA), this "confidence" King speaks of is already apparent in results from the Business Events Consumer Demand Project – BEA's international research done in October 2021.

Majority of decision makers across both the association and incentive sector are indicating "that the number of events held post pandemic will be the same or greater, and the available budget will increase", with Mack adding that it also helps that Australia continues to have a "competitive edge" as a top business events destination.

Some winning factors include safety, clean cities and good infrastructure, a range of quality accommodation, direct flight access, high quality business event facilities that offer good value for money, and friendly and passionate event staff.

To encourage business events further, BEA offers a range of resources for planners. On the domestic front, the Event Here This Year campaign offers a toolkit for use in a business' own marketing strategy, while international markets can tap on a range of resources including BEA's Business Events Bid Fund Program which provides funding for event costs in Australia. 

From a macro perspective, Tourism Australia will continue investing in research to support the business events industry's recovery, and "rebuild demand from the international markets offering the best potential return on investment", which Mack has identified as the USA and United Kingdom/Europe for both the incentive and association sectors, and China, New Zealand and South and South East Asia for the incentive sector.

Continuing from an earlier chat with M&C Asia before news of border reopening, Mack confirms Australia will continue to prioritise South and South East Asia. Groups have confirmed bookings to Sydney in 2023 and beyond, with interest also coming from Japan and South Korea planners for destinations such as Cairns, Gold Coast, Sydney, and Melbourne, to build incentive programmes that include a one day or half-day conference, said Mack.

Martin adds that enquiries are coming in too from China, Taiwan, Singapore, India and Malaysia to the Business Events Perth team.

Business Events Australia's Robin Mack, Business Events Perth's Gareth Martin, and Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre's Peter King.
Business Events Australia's Robin Mack, Business Events Perth's Gareth Martin, and Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre's Peter King.

Amid the hype of reopening and reconnecting, both Mack and King are nonetheless cognisant that "things aren’t going to be the same".

"Customer needs and expectations post-Covid have changed, and our operating environment is more complex. For many businesses in the industry, some of them family run, it will be a difficult return to normality," said King, who added that public-private partnerships will be key to overcome new challenges.

There's also another post-Covid change to cater to: people’s outlook on life.

"Our Business Events Consumer Demand Project research suggests that once travel is unrestricted, organisations are ready to do something significant to acknowledge all that’s happened, and will have the funds to do so from not running face-to-face events for some time. There is a real opportunity for Australia to benefit from this sentiment, especially amongst those who see Australia as a bucket list destination," said Mack.

Plans are already in place to tap on this specific segment: from familiarisation programmes and a brand new incentive inspiration magazine called Australia Next, to the hybrid Business Events Australia Asia Showcase 2022 connecting local sellers to international planners.

"Now that borders are open, we are on the cusp of launching some global initiatives that will tell the world that we’re open for business and work to position Australia for long term growth, so stay tuned," Mack concludes.