The head of the International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney has spoken in support of the “silent victim” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A significant ramification that hasn’t been widely acknowledged is the long-term impact on the global knowledge economy which is silently suffering,” said ICC Sydney chief executive Geoff Donaghy.
Donaghy's comment comes after looking at the raw numbers that reveal the financial and human impact of the weakening pulse of the meetings and events industry in Australia during the pandemic.
Numbers such as the Business Council of Australia’s (BECA) estimate of a loss of AU$35 billion (US$27 billion) in direct expenditure to the Australian economy and more than 230,000 jobs being affected post-Covid.
Donaghy added that ICC Sydney “will be lucky” if it achieves 10-12% of normal revenue during the year of the pandemic.
But Donaghy’s thoughts are not just with those suffering severe economic hardship, loss of business, and those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, pointing to the loss of meetings between researchers, scientists and other expert voices who come together at industry gatherings to share ideas and create lasting relationships and partnerships.
“Business events deliver much more than travel and hospitality spend. They are a driving force for innovation, providing researchers and practitioners with a platform to discuss and disseminate new ideas.”
Industry sources say other benefits of conferences – those held by global associations in particular – are cross-cultural understanding, inward investment and economic development and "serendipitous connections” made inside and outside the conference hall.
“Meeting in person allows for networking opportunities, business exchanges and introductions. Some of the greatest business ideas, scientific developments and technical innovations have been sparked during an event workshop or over a glass of wine afterwards, outside of formal sessions,” said Donaghy, who added that the loss to the knowledge economy caused by the pandemic "has been immense and will take considerable time to rebuild”.
“Hosting virtual and hybrid events in the current climate has certainly been valuable for businesses and organisations to continue to come together in a pandemic environment however, there are some things that we need to do together face-to-face that you can’t easily replicate online.”
Donaghy says as the pandemic endures, “it’s never been more important for private industry, government and the community to recognise the broader value of business events to society, beyond the obvious monetary outcomes”.
Australia’s meetings industry has been hit badly both by the closure of the country’s international borders as well as the barriers to travel erected around individual state borders.
The Australian government has extended its international border lockdown until June, and even that date is expected to stretch out until later in the year. Qantas has indicated it will not start international flights until October.
And while the idea of ‘travel bubbles’ between countries has been floating around in government circles, a ‘bubble’ with New Zealand popped soon after it was proposed due to a community transmission of Covid-19 in Auckland.
Over the past 12 months, ICC Sydney has run 200 events across three categories, and in November it saw the return, under strict health protocols, of its exhibition markets. This sector accounts for approximately one quarter of ICC Sydney’s turnover, which in a typical year can go up to 70 events.
All exhibitions held at ICC Sydney are delivered in line with the venue’s ASM Global Venue Shield EventSafe Operating Framework while meeting the current state government restrictions.
“I can see light at the end of the tunnel but right now we don’t know how long that tunnel will be,” said Donaghy . “There are still hopes of a travel bubble with New Zealand, certain Asian countries and perhaps even the UK.”