Advancing Australia’s meetings


Despite Australia’s reputation as a leisure oasis with an abundance of iconic landscapes, flora and fauna, the country remains the 13th largest global economy and is ranked 16th in the 2010-11 Global Competitiveness Index by the World Economic Forum.

Business events (BE) are said to be one of the highest yielding sectors in Australia’s visitor economy. In 2009, the country’s BE delegate expenditure was worth AU$7.9bn (US$8.2bn) annually and by 2020, it is expected to contribute up to $16bn.

In May 2011, convention bureau BE Australia (BEA) reported a 11 per cent year-on-year rise of convention visitor arrivals to 173,000, with a particularly strong increase from the Asia-Pacific region and key markets such as India, Korea, China and Japan. “Brand Australia is strong and will continue to attract solid business from the Asia-Pacific, where growing markets are creating more opportunities,” said Event Director of the 20th Australasian meetings and incentive tradeshow, AIME 2012, Sally de Swart. She said there has been “encouraging growth from the US, the UK, Germany and Canada as the economic situation improves”.

The Group Director of Convention Centres for AEG Ogden and VP of International Association of Congress Centres, Geoff Donaghy said: “Australia escaped the worst of the impacts of the global financial crisis (GFC) and its economy has remained buoyant. This meant corporate business, which was the   worst affected is now returning, albeit not yet to pre-GFC levels. Association business is positive and the postponing of some destination decisions, which was the main GFC impact, has mostly finished.”

He argued the strengthening of the Australian dollar and the fact the country is a long-haul destination is not conducive to international business. “This also means outbound demand, particularly to Asia, is growing steadily,” he added. 

Despite this, Australia rose five places in the 2010 International Congress and Convention Association rankings to 11th place with 239 qualifying meetings.

BEA attributes this rise on improved access, new multimillion dollar meetings infrastructure and greater involvement from the country’s academics and business leaders. It said this multi-pronged approach has been to add value for international associations and their members.

“Australia is a pioneer in terms of its ambassador programmes,” said CEO of Fast Future Research and Programme Director of the Convention 2020 study on the future of the meetings industry, Rohit Talwar. “It is also, in my opinion, among the top three countries in terms of thought leadership.”

Manager of the Australia Associations Project at Tourism Australia, Julie Sheather, said Australia’s appetite for hosting international associations has never been greater: “We have put together a compelling proposition for any association hoping to run an event in Australia by adding greater air access, new facilities and whole-of-country support.”

There are new developments completed or underway in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Adelaide’s convention and exhibition centres. The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre opened in 2009 and a planned expansion of Sydney’s Darling Harbour complex and a new facility in the country’s capital city, Canberra, are among others.

In 2010, the Government announced the ‘2020 Tourism Industry Potential’ campaign, which Head of BEA, Penny Lion, said was a rallying industry call to increase tourism’s contribution to the GDP from 2.6 to three per cent by 2020.

She said to achieve this target, the Government is encouraging investment in the necessary infrastructure. “Evidence of new investments are starting to take shape all over Australia including Melbourne’s recent opening of Australia’s largest hotel, the Crown Metropol and the opening of Medina hotel on Darwin’s waterfront.

“In addition, private investment to aviation services means capacity and demand will continue to rise from key international markets.”

Talwar said the global meetings industry is becoming increasingly aware of the strength of the sector in Australia. “There is no single driver for Australia’s growing success and increasing prominence. Relative isolation and fierce internal competition have driven innovation and a remarkably strategic approach to industry development. At the same time there is strong collaboration in the industry.”

He added Australia was the first country globally to undertake a rigorous nationwide study of the benefits of BE ‘beyond tourism’.

This work has demonstrated the true long-term economic benefits of bringing in events from the knowledge-based industries.

Key players in Australia have also demonstrated a strong commitment to learning from and sharing with the global industry. “Australia typically sends significant delegations to key industry events such as the ICCA Congress and leaders from Australia play a prominent role in leading associations, for example, Leigh Harry, the former CEO of Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre was the chair of ICCA and is currently chair of the Joint Meetings Industry Council,” he added.

Despite the impact of major global events in the first two quarters of 2011 such as natural disasters in Queensland, the New Zealand earthquake, Chilean volcanic ash cloud and economic downturns in the US and Europe, Australia has seen a strengthening of its dollar and an upturn in BE arrivals.

With a more whole-industry approach to attracting those lucrative association and corporate events and the necessary infrastructure, Australia shows it is a meetings powerhouse down under. Lion said: “Australian destinations are putting hard work into signing and servicing business from international markets and the results are showing.” 


State updates

The Government has announced a $6.3m capital injection for the Cairns Convention Centre. The makeover will include new AV and communication equipment, upgraded WiFi and sustainable features.

A $40m expansion of the Brisbane Conference and Exhibition Centre is due for completion in late 2011. It will provide 19 new meeting rooms and two speaker preparation centres, two dedicated conference floors and two tiered auditoriums.

It has also established a dedicated BE unit in Events Queensland to support international bids.

New South Wales
Convention bureau BESydney has announced a $7bn infrastructure development programme for the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Star City Casino and waterfront greening project, Barangaroo.

The $550m redevelopment of the Sydney Entertainment Centre (SEC) at Darling Harbour includes the new Sydney Multifunctional Convention and Entertainment Centre. The SEC will be demolished for the new facility, which will increase space to 40,000sqm and add an auditorium for 12,000 delegates. The project is expected to be completed by 2015.

South Australia
The Adelaide Convention Centre’s $350m expansion plans are expected to generate a further $1.92bn in economic impact over the next 25 years.

The first stage, extending the facility westwards will be completed in time to host the World Aquaculture Conference in May 2014.

Stage Two will replace the existing Plenary Building with a multipurpose facility with capacity of 3,500 delegates and is scheduled for completion in June, 2017.

The Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau claims its recently-released Melbourne Convention Delegate Study 2010 reinforces the city’s reputation as Australia’s Business Events capital.

The study looked into the spending and travelling habits of 3,270 delegates from 87 countries, attending eight conferences. It found international delegates spent an average of $4,134 during their stay in Melbourne, $2,205 in regional Victoria and $3,618 in other parts of Australia.

Northern Territory
The Northern Territory Convention Bureau (NTCB) has rolled out a new strategic programme to maximise business opportunities arising from the NT’s strong business and industry connections in such fields as Oil and Gas, Renewable Energy and Health.

As part of this the NTCB has formed partnerships with cross government departments to jointly attract new business to the area such as participating in trade missions with the Department of Resources to China.

Australian Capital Territory
Plans for a new $328m convention centre in Canberra have been approved. Canberra Convention Bureau’s Chief Executive, Robyn Hendry, said: “The local BE market brings in almost one billion dollars each year.”

The Australia Forum complex will have a capacity for 3,000 delegates, a 1,500-seat ballroom as well as an onsite hotel. Land on the shore of the Australian capital’s Lake Burley Griffin, beside the West Basin at Acton, has been earmarked for the site.

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