As people around the world unite to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March 2018, the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) speaks to industry leaders to pay tribute to women in the business events industry.
Anna Case, director, Gold Coast Business Events
Case has had extensive experience in both business events and leisure tourism, having previously worked with Tourism Australia and Hong Kong Tourism Board. Case has also successfully established meeting and event specialist businesses in the US and Australia, and has worked with international tourist boards including Britain, Canada, Cannes CVB, Beverly Hills CVB and the State Tourism Boards of Australia.
Case is currently the chair of the Australian Committee of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), deputy chair and committee member of the Asia Pacific Chapter of ICCA and a director of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA).
Anna Case’s experience in the industry spans over 30 years, and something she engenders in her team of 12 as director of Global Business Events at Destination Gold Coast, Australia.
Case recommends a healthy combination of focus and fun to achieve results, with a strong commitment to making the role your own and developing it over time.
She recalls being involved in the bid for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, due to commence in a couple of weeks. “Joining the team at the bid election in St Kitts in 2011 was a career highlight,” says Case who now continues to work with the CGA – Commonwealth Games Australia – to plan and deliver the official Team Reception on 2 April.
Juliet Alabaster, GM, Brisbane Convention Bureau
Alabaster started in the Convention Bureau at Brisbane Marketing in 2009 on a three-month contract in sales support. Soon after, a permanent project manager role within the Bureau opened-up. Since then, Alabaster has managed all areas of the Bureau in different capacities, before taking on the role of GM last year.
What she loves most about her job? “The people and the purpose. The Bureau, as well as the broader Brisbane Marketing team, are all striving to create a more prosperous Brisbane for this generation as well as those to come.”
When AACB asked Alabaster what her greatest achievement was in her bureau career so far, she referenced the AACB Staff Scholarship.
“Variety is the spice of life” is Alabaster’s advice for anything starting out their career in the business events industry.
“Seek out opportunities to expand your experience as this will greatly enhance what you can offer, both professionally and personally. Over the course of my career I have worked for various hospitality venues, a wedding coordination company, a PCO and now a Convention Bureau,” adds Alabaster.
Karen Bolinger, CEO, Melbourne Convention Bureau
Bolinger has always been in the business of hospitality, starting her career in hotel operations. Prior to commencing her role as CEO at the Melbourne Convention Bureau in 2011, Bolinger was the GM of Strategy and Marketing at the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.
Her greatest achievement? Bolinger says it’s her team and the connection they’ve made with their local community. Bolinger says that the variety and unexpected things she gets to do daily are what she loves most about her job.
Her advice to those starting out: “Get some good basic understanding of how the industry works so you can connect the dots. Be prepared to think big on behalf of a city/destination, have strong partner skills and be able to interact with government at various levels and your members/partners.”
Liz Bendeich, GM, Canberra Convention Bureau
After studying Hotel Management, Bendeich began her career working for venues in Brisbane. In 2000, Bendeich relocated to Canberra, joining the National Convention Centre to manage their events team.
Following 15 years in venues, she decided to make the change to the Convention Bureau world. Bendeich has been working for the Canberra Convention Bureau for over a decade now and has worn many hats during this time, including research, membership and business development. As GM, she manages the day-to-day operations of the bureau, overseeing the bidding and membership teams.
When asked what she loves most about her job, she says, “I love working with a passionate and dedicated team who genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
Bendeich says that the business events industry is dynamic and ever-evolving, meaning a career of constant challenges. “I find that I’m continually learning and having to adapt my leadership style to suit ever-changing people, resources and products.”
Malu Barrios and Robyn Hendry come to Bendeich’s mind when thinking about key mentors in her career and life.
Her advice for anyone pursuing a career in business events? “Be open minded and flexible. Never be afraid to put your hand up for a new opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills. Always remain relevant and keep up to date with industry news and trends.”
Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO, Business Events Sydney
Lewis-Smith joined the tourism industry over 20 years ago, coming from a diverse background in financial services, resource management, transport and logistics.
After establishing the Australian Institute of Sport/Thredbo Alpine Training Centre in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics, she made the move to business events in 2000, joining the Christchurch Convention Bureau as GM.
In 2003, Lewis-Smith was asked to join the Sydney Bureau, where she first started out as director of sales, then becoming CEO in 2012.
When asked what attracted her to the business events industry, Lewis-Smith comments: “the opportunity to help create genuine change – and it’s still what gets me out of bed every morning.”
“We know that business events often lead directly to breakthroughs and collaborations that change the face of health, science and society,” says Lewis-Smith. Mentoring has played an important role in her career.
“Shifting the perception of business events and demonstrating their real value,” says Lewis-Smith in explaining the biggest challenge in her career so far.
“The reality is they drive trade and investment and create long-term social and economic change,” elaborates Lewis-Smith. She adds “Of course, this hasn’t just been my challenge – it’s one we have shared as an industry. But it has been close to my heart for many years, and I feel I’ve made a real contribution towards tackling it – as CEO of BESydney, past president and board member of AACB, and in my wider engagement across government, academia, non-profits and the private sector.”
Her advice to anyone looking to build a career in the industry is to embrace change.
“Never be afraid to challenge the status quo, and always look for opportunities to transform the businesses you work with,” said Lewis-Smith.
“Business events are constantly evolving, due to new technologies, higher delegate expectations, and a greater focus on generating long-term legacies,” adds Lewis-Smith.
Rebecca McCaig, manager, Trade and Market Engagement, NT Convention Bureau
McCaig background lies in hotels and catering, spanning a number of groups and continents, forming an 18-year career to date.
When she was afforded the opportunity to live in Darwin in late 2000’s, she was offered a contract opportunity with NT Convention Bureau to research the industry strengths of the destination that would underpin a new business events strategy.
To this day, that critical piece of research has shaped and influenced her capacity to create business reasons that encourage organisations to consider the Northern Territory as a location to host their events.
Reflecting on her greatest achievement, McCaig recalls winning the AACB Staff Scholarship in 2012/13.
“I am still optimistic about finding the capacity to implement learnings from my experience in Boston to make a significant change to the way organisations engage and impact the communities in which they stage their business events,” says McCaig.
Her advice to those pursuing a career in the industry is to “Make sure you look beyond the economic benefits a business event brings to a destination and readily embrace the opportunities to make a social impact to your destination as well.”
Rosie Douglas, director of Business & Tourism Events, Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef
Douglas has been working for Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef since 2010, before which she was working the director of sales at Visions Hotels and Resorts for five years.
Douglas has a comprehensive background in hotel management, particularly in the areas of food and beverage, HR management, sales and event management.
Douglas was also part of the opening team at the Cairns Convention Centre, working in HR and event management.
Ranking top among her greatest achievements is getting Amway China over the line in 2017 for their 2019 leadership programme. “The other one that comes a close second is to have staff that I’ve been able to mentor who have gone on to do some amazing things,” adds Douglas.
“The diversity of the industry,” is what keeps Douglas motivated and interested.
Her advice to anyone starting out in the industry is: “to get as much experience as possible (on both the supplier and buyer side) and remain loyal to your employers. You also need to be empathetic – often clients may be difficult, but you need to remember they are also working for people who, in some cases, have high expectations.”