View from the experts:
Changing event opportunities in Australia in 2021
With COVID-19 case numbers in Australia returning to low numbers and eased restrictions for domestic meetings and events, the outlook for business events in Australia in 2021 demonstrates the challenges and triumphs for the industry during the pandemic.
Just three locally acquired cases have been reported across Australia’s nearly 26 million population over the past week, as the industry focusses on domestic meetings and working around pandemic containment measures, such as interstate border closures, to do business.
The pent-up demand from businesses to get back together and meet is there.
“It’s important for corporates to get their people back together from a cultural point of view and to drive business outcomes. Deals get done when you build trust, rapport and strong relationships and we know that the most effective way to do this is face to face,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith, Chief Executive Officer of BESydney, the convention bureau for Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales.
“The pent-up demand from businesses to get back together and meet is there, and whilst the pace of enquiry has, of course, slowed over the past year, we expect to see that pick back up as confidence returns.
“Despite challenging conditions, our team was able to work with partners to reschedule 70 per cent of meetings that were due to take place in 2020 into future years, and there are 85 meetings and incentives confirmed for Sydney from calendar year 2021 to 2026.
“It’s highly pleasing to see that we’re still winning international events for Sydney and NSW and we can’t wait to welcome more business visitors back,” says Lewis-Smith.
Lewis-Smith believes the new hybrid and virtual platforms which the pandemic has necessitated have delivered some advantages for selling Australia to the world while international travel here is paused.
“Whilst nothing can compete with the power of meeting face to face, the virtual format gives you a platform to reach markets and individuals that you may never have reached before and we see a real opportunity to showcase Sydney as a destination and knowledge hub to the rest of the world.
“New South Wales and Australia more broadly have managed the pandemic well to date and that certainly is a sign of strength to decision makers and travel planners as they consider where to hold their next business events,” says Lewis-Smith.
We’ve experienced a recovery of smaller face-to-face meetings for the first half of the year.
Further north along Australia’s east coast, on Queensland’s Gold Coast, an oceanside city of 700,000 which gets over 300 days of sunshine each year, Australia’s first JW Marriott branded property has just opened after an AUD $35 million renovation.
The hotel’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Rebecca Gollan, says the entry of one of Marriott’s top luxury brands into the Australian market has created a buzz and caused the destination to be reconsidered by planners looking for something new.
“We’ve definitely had some solid interest as the rebrand to JW coincided with the initial recovery from COVID-19 in the region,” she says.
Although the domestic border closure between New South Wales and Queensland is having an impact, with greater attention given to intrastate possibilities, more local and immediate business from Queensland’s capital city of Brisbane, an hour’s drive north, has also come to JW Marriott Gold Coast as a result.
“The confidence is there for Brisbane based corporates, travelling to the Gold Coast,” says Gollan.
“We’re doing everything from teams getting back together through to social events. For business events it’s about getting companies to reconnect with their staff instead of doing things over Zoom.
“We’ve got a lot of strong interest from everything from pharmaceutical [to] the corporate sector. We’ve also experienced a recovery of smaller face-to-face meetings for the first half of the year. The larger residential conferences – anything from 150 delegates and up – are planning to meet again from about June onwards. For the first six months we’re definitely seeing anything from 20 to 100 participants.”
Ninety-five per cent of everything we’ve done [in 2020] has been for 2020 and it’s been really short lead.
The landscape for event speakers has also shifted during the pandemic, says Anne Jamieson, Chief Executive Officer of Australian-founded global speaker and influencer bureau, Saxton. The bureau opened its first US office in 2019 and represents both Australian and international speakers with experiences and lessons to inspire, motivate and drive change for event audiences.
“We went from live events to absolutely no events and we had well over 700 events postpone or cancel. There’s still a very large portion of those that have not made decisions for  in terms of what they’re going to do.
“The first couple of months, we were just in survival mode like so many other people in the events industry. And then people started to get their heads around the whole hybrid/virtual/zoom [proposition],” she says.
After realising they weren’t in a position to commercialise their offering, the brand started Saxton Virtual Fireside Chats, hosting intimate chats with a cross-section of the talent on their books – from Australian innovators and disruptors to an ultra-marathon runner with a social impact agenda, and inspiring communicators, creatives and strategists.
It is a move which has given planners an opportunity to experience an in-depth sample of potential speakers for their events.
“We’ve just finished a really big piece of research and one of the things that came out of the research was that 97 per cent of our clients and people that got engaged with our fireside chats want to see them continue in . It gave them an insight that they’d never had before into some of the incredible business leaders that we represent.
“It gives them a really good insight into…whether or not the speaker or the business leader is the right fit for their organisation,” says Jamieson.
Their research, canvassing 257 event planners across Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the USA also revealed the top five speaking areas for 2021 – health and wellbeing, leadership, business strategy, collaboration and communication.