The events sector across Australia has experienced considerable collateral damage as a result of COVID-19. However, with high vaccination rates being reached across the country and with borders opening up we can look forward to resumption in demand for face-to-face meetings. This will provide a much needed boost to the industry in 2022.
State borders will hopefully all be opened up in early 2022 and the domestic market will lead the way to a recovery of the sector. The longer timeframe for global events planning will see the international market taking longer to recover and to begin filling our convention centres.
Pent up demand for people to reconnect will need to be met given that so many have been in lockdown and working from home, particularly in the major cities.
Over the past 12-18 months most businesses have had to rejig their corporate plans in order to survive under difficult conditions. Now they will need to implement new strategies in order to make up lost ground. This will include re-engaging with their teams, suppliers and customers. For many the most effective way to do this will be face-to-face and they will be allocating healthy budgets to ensure that their events achieve great outcomes.
Simon Baggs, Managing Director at Lateral Event Management, reports that their books for corporate events are up 55 percent on 2019 pre-COVID. Much of this is coming from unused 2020/21 budgets augmented by fresh 2022 funds.
With this resurgence in demand there are a few obstacles that the business events sector and its clients will need to address.
During COVID many experienced and talented event professionals left the industry to find other employment. There are severe staff shortages right across the event industry. This is impacting the capacity of venues and suppliers. In addition, some providers are still operating in a semi-mothballed state.
Sales teams are slowly returning to their roles and there are recruitment drives to fill new positions. But some venues are being overwhelmed with new bookings for events they’ll struggle to deliver – particular for early 2022. Simons Baggs comments, “We are finding that suppliers that have been used for years have quietly closed up shop. We all knew this was happening over the last 18 months. Now the damage to the industry is manifesting itself in gaps in supply”.
The associations market is starting to bounce back domestically, according to Nicole Walker, managing director of Arinex. “This quarter we have had far more enquiries and requests for proposals than we have had in the almost two years since COVID came into our lives. This is almost certainly due to a pent-up demand after associations and businesses postponed or even cancelled regular meetings amidst the uncertainty of the global pandemic”.
As the recently elected chair of the Exhibitions & Events Association of Australasia, Nicole confirms there are similar trends being seen across the exhibitions industry – with record interest and willingness to commit. “With more certainty around border openings and vaccination mandates we look forward to seeing this willingness convert into sales”.
Nicole sees a real sense of positivity in the business events sector. ”It is reassuring to see business events pick up once again and I am confident that in the next couple of years, the industry will return to its former glory.”
It’s pleasing to see confidence returning, although one of the long-term effects of the pandemic on the business events industry will likely be a continuing rise of the online meeting format. Hybrid business events will broaden potential attendances.
Geoff Donaghy, International Convention Centre Sydney’s chief executive officer, is a leading influencer keen to see more government support for the sector. He, too, is optimistic. “We have seen a significant uptick in client enquiries and bookings for national in-person events from November onwards and the early months 2022 are beginning to look healthy with events confirmed and in the pipeline”.
As Geoff notes, “Beyond national business events, ICC Sydney does depend on the recovery of the international market. As international borders reopen to NSW and other states at varying stages, we hope to see a return of international business events, to a small degree from mid-2022, and in greater numbers into 2023”.
All up, things look very encouraging from the responses I’ve received in preparing this article. Having spent more than twenty years in the events industry – the last four heading up Meetings & Events Australia prior to the pandemic – I’ve seen how important it is to have a steady supply of skilled people. Our task now is to re-group, to encourage those who left us to return, and to train the next generation of events professionals.
The industry has had limited success in attracting support from the Federal government, with the Business Events Council of Australia actively advocating on its behalf throughout the pandemic. Campaigns at the state government level have attracted some support to get the industry back on its feet. This campaign has resulted in the Victorian government announcing that it will insure events for 12 months, let’s hope other states will follow this support. Hopefully there will be a long overdue consolidation of the industry’s representative bodies that strengthens the sector’s ability to continue to influence governments, and provide a more resilient and fortified industry as we fight to return to a stable operating future.