Geoff Donaghy on ICC Sydney’s evolution in a ‘new era’

CIM spoke with Geoff Donaghy, CEO of International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney), on the importance of flexibility as the city’s recovery continues to build momentum this year.

Has the industry adapted to a more flexible model that can cope with future challenges?

The events industry is by nature an agile one – requirements can change on the day of an event and we flex appropriately. The past two years has been an accelerated, seismic version of what we are typically adept at dealing with. We continue to be adaptable and excellent planners but certainly, the more flexible model of specific scenario plans to meet any environment is the new best practice.

With thousands of guests once again passing through ICC Sydney’s doors daily, it feels like a new era has begun. The venue is both excited to welcome back guests for world class events, with new formats, expanded services all delivered by our caring, passionate professionals, as the world gets back to the business of meeting face to face.

Continuing operations throughout the pandemic, the venue evolved its products and services to build back even better today, placing the venue and Sydney firmly back on the global events stage. 

How soon do you expect the Sydney CBD to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity – and does this impact bidding?

With all Omicron restrictions now eased in New South Wales, we know that organisations see great advantages in returning to the workplace.

ICC Sydney relies on a dynamic Sydney to win events for our venue and conversely the city depends upon the financial contribution that the business events industry provides.

We are seeing an increase in demand for in person events. Taking March as an example, we held 54 events and welcomed over 54,000 people through our doors.

Further to this, ICC Sydney has 300 events for the first half of this calendar year. When looking at the full calendar year, we are working towards delivering another 300 events across all market segments.

International events are expected to arrive in greater numbers from 2023 onwards though the uptake in bookings has certainly increased.

ICC Sydney’s Connect Outdoors Rustic Winery Reception is one of the new initiatives at the venue.

You spent a great deal of time and effort lobbying government on behalf of the industry – did the pandemic show that previous efforts at getting the ear of government (pre-pandemic) were not as successful as we thought?

The capital investment in our facility of $1.5 billion for ICC Sydney – and $3.4 billion if considering the surrounding precinct – plus ongoing contributions to Business Events Sydney demonstrates the understanding of the importance of our sector.

The industry saw both state and federal additional investment in our bureaus for bidding and event funds; and the NSW Government released an Event Saver Fund that included business events.

The announcement of major events, particularly Government-run events such as VIVID, continues to demonstrate confidence for event organisers and attendees within our sector.

Through constant dialogue with our industry colleagues and representative bodies, and the Sydney Business Events Coalition (launched specifically to meet a gap in communication during this time), while we may not have achieved all that we set out to do, our industry’s medium and long-term recovery strategy remains front of mind with decision makers at all government levels.

ICC Sydney has further committed to its First Nations legacy – how important is that for you on a personal level?

ICC Sydney stands on the traditional lands of the Gadigal clan of the Eora Nation. As an iconic destination that sits on Sydney Harbour across three city blocks, attracting hundreds of events and millions of people a year (usually), we believe we have not just an opportunity but an obligation to do all that we can to provide opportunities for First Nations people and to continue to pay respect to their customs and culture, within which are many lessons we can continue to learn from today.

Having spent time in Cairns involved in the tourism sector and having worked on bodies such as the North Queensland’s world heritage rainforest management authority, I’ve long been engaged with First Nations people and organisations. I am proud of the work Samantha Glass and the Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group have achieved in partnership with community and they have my full support in realising the plan at ICC Sydney.

Smoking ceremony at the Business Sydney First Nations Forum and ICC Sydney Reconciliation Plan launch.

Sustainability is becoming a priority for events – how is ICC Sydney working with the city and state to build on this?

Sustainability is embedded at the core of ICC Sydney’s facilities and operations.

ICC Sydney is a founding partner of the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Destination Partnership and has continued to collaborate with clients and industry stakeholders to reduce waste and maximise energy efficiency throughout its operations.

We have continued to grow our Legacy Program, which supports clients to envisage, plan and activate Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives across five distinct streams – Environmental Sustainability, First Nations, Generation Next, Creative Industries and Innovators and Entrepreneurs, and our new three year strategy, to be released in the next financial year, will cover new partnerships and paths to increased event sustainability across both environmental and social streams.