5 minutes with ICC Sydney’s Geoff Donaghy on adapting to a Covid-19 world

With convention centres across Australia having to close their doors to the public, CIM spoke exclusively with ICC Sydney CEO Geoff Donaghy about how the venue has adapted and what things will look like on the other side of the Covid-19 crisis.

What is the current situation? We are managing the current situation as best as we can, but we have already started to turn our gaze to the recovery particularly the relaunch period.

We are starting to see little touches of clarity, distant pin lights at the end of the tunnel about what the future might by shaped by. I think what is happening is very much zoom fatigue. We are getting an indication from a small number of clients who want to get back together and hold a face to face meeting the moment the ban on face to face meetings is restricted.

When will international conferences come back online? While Australian will ease social restrictions sooner than most countries we don’t expect to see international movement for some time.

It can take 12 to 18 months to organise an international program, so even when those bans are lifted we could wait another year and a half months before those meetings start to flow through the pipeline.

Are events going virtual? In the middle ground even sizeable conventions that were planned to happen in the second half of this year are still going ahead but looking to converting into a 100 per cent online format, similar to the Salesforce event did when we first went into the shutdown.

Will venue practices be different on the other side of the restrictions? When we do come out the complete lockdown there will have to be a whole range of safety and hygiene measures. While that will be dictated by whatever is mandated by government, over and above that there will be what clients themselves need and desire. Venues are prepared for that and it is a discussion that is being had across the industry and within our own ASM group globally.

What should a sector response strategy be informed by? The first step is for government to understand what the value this industry has. Our sector has got a very pronounced supply chain of benefit. For every dollar that ICC Sydney might attract in off delegate spending, we end up with 10 cents of that. The remaining 90 cents goes to the other things that make up a convention experience – hotels, restaurants and entertainment. Even the 10 cents we keep, a large proportion of that goes out to regional suppliers, farmers, primary producers, wine growers – it’s a very pronounced pipeline of benefits. That has been shown in graphic terms when the initial supply dried up. But conversely when the supply returns, we will see a multitude of other benefits.

There is another aspect as well. While the financial aspect of our business very significant in terms of the visitor economy, it is the knowledge economy that is of equal importance. Getting the best performers, the best minds, new entrants, participants in whatever industry sector it is to exchange information, ideas, innovation in a face to face basis is an incredibly important contribution to the productivity and the reputation of capability of a country. Those ‘beyond tourism’ benefits are incredibly important to keep front of mind in these discussions as well.

Will the rebound in domestic events make up for lost revenue from the international market? There will be an element of that. But we have to be realistic the domestic market is a finite one. Having that unleashed desire and need to get together will nourish our industry at the start, but our industry relies very much on international business. At ICC Sydney that represented between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of our revenue. That will not come back for some time after the domestic business is well and truly re-established.

Will any good come of this crisis? Sometimes it takes something as horrific as the absence of business to actually illustrate and shine a light on its value. There has been an element of that. We have also been very fortunate that BECA chair Dr Vanessa Finlay is located in Canberra and very conversant with the communication channels to government.

We will come out of it both with a much stronger recognition of the value across both the supply chain and the visitor and knowledge economy. The ability to speak with one clear voice with a well enunciated message, speaking on behalf of our industry and all of the individual associations, has put us in very good stead with government for the long term.