Penny Lion on driving demand for events in a Covid world

CIM spoke with Penny Lion, Tourism Australia’s Executive General Manager Events, about helping to rebuild confidence in the domestic events sector with initiatives such as the Business Events Boost Program.

What does the data say about the number of events now being held domestically compared with before the pandemic?

To assist us in understanding the current business events climate, we undertook research in August last year to track the evolving attitudes of Australian corporate decision-makers to restarting events domestically. In the latest wave, which surveyed decision makers between 11 – 24 May 2021, 83 per cent of businesses claim they will hold a similar number of events or more post-COVID.

In addition to this, they claim that the event budgets and the number of attendees will be the same or greater compared to pre-COVID.

While we still have a long road ahead of us, it’s promising to see a strong pipeline of domestic business events, which will help bolster the industry while most international travel is on hold.

How have previous successful applicants of the Business Events Boost Program used the grant?

As part of our broader recovery strategy, Tourism Australia supported 86 partners through the Business Events Boost Program in FY2020/21. Our partners delivered a range of innovative marketing and distribution projects – from content creation and educational programs to media buys and delegate boosting – all of which help drive demand for domestic face-to-face events.

One of the innovative projects that was supported by the program included the virtual site visits developed by Sydney Opera House. The Sydney Opera House can now host virtual site inspections with clients, no matter where they are, showcasing the range of venues and experiences available.

What types of delegate boosting activities have past applicants used?

The Business Events Boost Program has supported delegate boosting activities including asset and content creation, dedicated media buy activity, marketing campaigns to attract interstate attendees and dedicated microsites.

The aim is to increase the appetite for events – but is the challenge not demand but rather supply (through the constant limitations on gatherings and travel restrictions)?

You are right, there is definitely an appetite to hold events and our research highlights this with three quarters of businesses claiming to be planning events in the next 6 to 12 months and 12 to 24 months.

COVID-19 is still influencing confidence levels among some decision makers, particularly in terms of restrictions on travel and attendee numbers, as well as the safety reputation of potential event locations.

We’re focused on engaging industry and encouraging a collective solution to help rebuild confidence. The activity we’re undertaking focuses on driving demand with our Event Here This Year campaign, while practical barriers of safety, flexibility and ensuring a quality business event experience despite COVID-19 is something everyone in the industry has a part to play in communicating.

The Boost Program is a great resource for industry to tap into to help achieve this. By accessing funding and Tourism Australia’s expertise, industry can develop the tools and assets to help improve Australia’s business event offering that ultimately drive more events.

Regional areas have seen a visitation boost during the pandemic while large cities have struggled – are events following a similar trend and how do you bring them back to the city?

From what we’re hearing from industry, generally speaking regional Australia is seeing an increase in activity, while our cities are still going through a more difficult time.

Our Event Here This Year campaign is one of the ways in which we are hoping to get people back into our cities by shining a light on some of our incredible city destinations, products and experiences on offer. As part of this campaign we also have a PR and content strategy that works to showcase what our city stakeholders, such as convention centres, are doing to ensure quality and safe event delivery.

What a post-pandemic world will look like is still an open question – how do you plan for all eventualities?

It is impossible to plan for all eventualities and if the last 12 months has taught us anything, it is the importance of being flexible.

The way we plan is by engaging with industry to understand their challenges and ensure we’re doing all we can to support them through this time.

We also engage regularly with incentive and association planners in our key regions to understand the state of the market, trends, the needs of customers and what we can do to keep Australia in mind as a future business event destination; localising our approach for each market to ensure we’re appropriate with timing and tone.

And we utilise research and insights to inform our activity – across both domestic and international remits – to build a strategy with the objective of sustaining industry, while responding to the rapidly changing market conditions.

Applications for Tourism Australia’s Business Events Boost Program 2021/22 will close on Wednesday 30 June 2021 at 5pm AEST.