‘Politics and point scoring’ Gary Fitz-Roy on organising exhibitions across two states

The Australian Made Fair is planning to hold exhibitions in both Sydney and Brisbane. CIM spoke with Expertise Events managing director and Australian Made Fair organiser Gary Fitz-Roy about the challenges of launching the event in two different states under very different regulations.

What is the public appetite for large live events? We recently carried out a number of research studies and whilst the response to virtual events has been good, people are now over it and want touch! Ranging from 80-93 per cent (depending on the sector) people want to get on with their lives, routines and enjoying life again.

How difficult is it planning in this current environment? Very challenging especially in NSW with no clear framework or directions from the NSW Government and the fact the total coronavirus cases daily represent less than 0.25 per cent of the total population. Particularly when Queensland are able to run events and do so in the correct manner. It’s frustrating to see WA, South Australia and Queensland all running shows and in NSW we can’t yet [until] our daily cases have drastically decreased.

With so many suppliers in hibernation how did that affect the event supply chain? From an exhibition industry supply chain they are ready to go and to support. From an exhibitors point of view we have made the participation very cost effective as our way to reboot business and focus on buying Australian.

How is it working across two states? Very different tales, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre have clear approvals and plans to comply with. Unfortunately NSW venues have been left to keep putting up plans with no direction. NSW really needs to step up and start putting plans into action.

Do you think the events industry has been supported by federal and state governments? I think the Federal Government gets it and are frustrated by the states. The states are consumed with politics and point scoring and have contradictory rules, as an example ICC Sydney is capped at 150 and the Sydney Showground at 500 as there is a  different interpretation of the venues.

Shopping centres and sporting events can now host over 150 people in their venues, as long as they adhere to the COVID safe guidelines, yet exhibitions and events in large scale venues such as the ICC Sydney can still not get an exemption above the 150 persons rule. This doesn’t make sense and seems to be discriminatory to the events and exhibitions industry.

In Queensland, every industry was provided with industry specific guidelines to assist their industry in obtaining COVID Safe approval. No such industry specific guidelines have been provided in NSW, with exhibitions being left in the dark as to what the NSW government wants. The current Health Orders don’t even mention exhibitions. So, are we unrestricted? No one will tell us! Are we regarded as a corporate event, conference, festival, special event? The Queensland model is up and running and we need to see the same thing happening in NSW.

Given Australia’s current situation of state border closures – can you see any return to normality in 12 months? Yes, something will need to give, we are one country and unless each state want to oversee the most expensive warehouses every built shows need to return.

Will the landscape for events have changed forever post Covid? Yes and no. The basic default is people want to do business with people. I believe the change will come from businesses not surviving and then others who want to participate and can’t afford it. From an international perspective there may be more zoom/skype presenters but doing business face to face will always be strong and I think may become even more important.

With so many events cancelling what has kept you going? I am an optimist, it’s easy to give up and harder to fight but when you love what you do, you fight.

The Australian Made Fair will be held at the ICC Sydney on November 20-22 and BCEC on November 27-29.