Outlook positive but ‘significant investment’ needed in workforce

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AIME. Image supplied. AIME. Image supplied.

Opinion: by Andrew Hiebl, CEO Association of Australian Convention Bureaux

Australia’s re-opening to the world on 21 February, combined with the lifting of many domestic border closures and easing of restrictions across the country has been a much-needed environmental change to facilitate our industry’s first steps towards recovery.

Fortunately, Australia has a significant domestic business events industry, and as we see employees return to work in CBD offices, interstate business travel resume, attendance at business events will accelerate quickly. With this shift in confidence, momentum in the domestic market has supported the return of international business events. On the 21 March, AIME – Asia Pacific’s Meetings and Events Industry trade show – will open its doors in Melbourne. This will be Australia’s first national event to welcome international delegates. A defining moment after two years of hardship.

Australia is well placed and prepared compared to many business events destinations around the world. Health and safety is first and foremost our guiding principle.

Vaccination rates across the country remain high, with 95 per cent of adult Australians having received a second dose, and the rollout of third doses (booster shots) reaching almost 12 million to date.

From all perspectives, delegate safety is paramount, requiring constant and vigilant monitoring of all COVID-19 health measures along the entire visitor journey. Over the past two years, convention centres, hotels and supply chain businesses have invested heavily in COVIDSafe event management, equipment, and staff training. Rapid antigen testing has also been successfully implemented at domestic events across the country. This level of consistency and experience will be key in maintaining momentum in confidence against a future where we will need to co-exist with the pandemic for some time.

Looking at the international market, Australia has a very healthy pipeline of secured business for 2022 and beyond. AACB’s members confirmed a strong 345 international business events on the forward calendar as at July last year, noting that convention bureaux and their industry partners fought hard to reschedule and retain over half of these international bid wins.

Tourism Australia’s Business Events Bid Fund Program has also been working hard for the country. In a recent presentation by Tourism Australia’s Managing Director, Phillipa Harrison, we were remined of the success of the programme. Of the 59 international business events supported by the bid fund, worth an estimated AUD$461 million to the Australian economy, 35 had been secured during the COVID pandemic.

We therefore call on the Australian Government to continue investment in this successful program over the next three years to offer much needed certainty for both the industry and our international clients, as a key demand driving tool, against heightened post-pandemic competition.

According to the Government’s Draft Visitor Economy Strategy for the decade ahead, THRIVE 2030, it is expected that we will achieve pre-COVID levels of visitor expenditure by the end of 2024 – within the recovery phase.

We should recognise that in 2019, Australia’s business events industry directly contributed AUD$36 billion to the nation’s economy and supported 230,000 employees with more than AUD$11 billion in wages. It is critical that we return to this scale as quickly as possible so that we can focus our attention to growth and acceleration – and AIME is the perfect platform to assist with this pathway.

The immediate challenge to recovery is workforce availability. It was recognised early by the business events industry in Australia that with the conclusion of national wage subsidy support in March 2021, the sector would struggle to retain specialist skills and lose key staff to industries less impacted by the pandemic. This experience has been witnessed globally. As such, significant investment will be required to rebuild, re-train and re-engage with both traditional and non-traditional labour market opportunities including a potential pool of retired, semi-retired, return to work parents and guardians, those with disabilities, international students and working holiday makers.

The AACB’s message is one of unity, opportunity, commitment, and safety. To achieve a safe, sustainable, and prosperous return for business events, a consistent and collegiate, whole-of-industry approach is required and AIME 2022 is a launchpad for this. And with Australia now open to delegates from across the world, convention bureaux can focus on the short-term recovery and long-term growth of the visitor and knowledge economies.

The AACB is proud to demonstrate such support and commitment to industry with virtually all its members in attendance at AIME 2022.

James Lancaster
Written By
James Lancaster

A journalist for more than 22 years, AMI editor James Lancaster is a familiar face in the meetings industry and international association community. Since joining AMI in 2010, he has gained a reputation for asking difficult questions and getting lost in convention centres. Page proofer, podcaster, and panellist - in his spare time, James likes to walk, read, listen to music, and drink beer.

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