‘Real kick in the guts’ as government ignores events sector again

There has been a universal sense of disappointment in the event sector at yesterday’s announcement of a $1.2 billion tourism sector support package.

No national border framework and some tinkering to an event fund that had a very small take-up rate compared to a massive cash splash on discounted air fares to 13 destinations within Australia.

Touted by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a “ticket to recovery” for the tourism sector, Gary Fitz-Roy, managing director at Expertise Events, called it a “real kick in the guts” for the events sector.

“It seems the event industry has yet again been snubbed and forgotten completely,” he said.

“Residents are being given restaurant vouchers and travel subsidies. Yet, the one sector that was shut first, the events and exhibitions industry, has had no acknowledgement or support to allow the sector to rebuild after the end of March.”

Given the business event industry had a direct contribution of $36 billion to the Australian economy, the lack of any extra funds to the flawed $50 million Business Events Grant program highlights where the industry really sits in the government’s priorities, says Fitz-Roy, who also took aim at the multiple industry associations.

“There are questions and anger being raised around what the exhibition and conference industry associations have tangibly been doing to support the industry, ensuring the government’s awareness about the issues so we are supported,” he said.

“It seems they all jump on what others achieve but have been lacking in any big moves and self-initiated actions.

“I seriously believe they are so out of touch with their members’ pain.”

Fitz-Roy called for an agreement on a national border framework to instil confidence backed up by funding to cover the additional costs organisers face in the current situation.

Lobby group Save Victorian Events also expressed its disappointment at yesterday’s announcement calling it a “a very, very sad day”.

“Pressure is now on the state government to finally act – and we will keep pushing as hard as we can,” the group said in a statement on Facebook.

“It’s certainly not through lack of effort by thousands of people in the event industry. This will have a huge impact on many great people and businesses.”

The organisers behind upcoming trade show Get Local, Donna Kessler and Gary Bender, said it is vital that government “understands and supports the business events industry”.

“[A national border framework] is an imperative if we’re going to continue to move forward,” said Kessler.

“We need consistency. Demand will return when we have the confidence to attend meetings in other states  without being concerned about quarantine or border closures. I am certain the government is working behind the scenes with the states and territories to make that happen.

“The recent announcement of low cost airfares wont support business to business events, if we are going to survive we need more.”

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) also highlighted the ongoing impact our closed international border is having on many businesses.

“The challenge export tourism businesses face is staying afloat until international borders reopen. With JobKeeper off the table, the ability to retain staff while revenue is at an all-time low will be very difficult,” ATEC Managing Director Peter Shelley said.

“It’s critical state governments recognise the importance of their borders remaining open and all governments commit to a tourism restart timeline which is vital to the survival of thousands of small tourism businesses across the country.

“I think we all agree it’s an imperfect package, but we welcome the components which support the valuable $45 billion inbound tourism sector. The concern shared by many is will it be enough to support businesses reliant on international tourism which continues to have an uncertain restart date.”

Speaking in an editorial in the Australian Financial Review, Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison tried to remain optimistic.

“For many businesses and operators there’s still some way to go before they return to normalcy as they navigate new ways of operating in the era of a global pandemic,” she said.

“But what we’ve heard from across Australia’s $36 billion business events industry is that the loss of that in-person element was felt acutely by clients from all industries.”

Harrison pointed to Business Events Australia research that showed an increasing appetite to return to face-to-face events.

“With the roll out of the vaccine and restrictions continuing to ease across Australia, it’s time for in-person business events to restart,” she said.

“The results demonstrate an appetite for face-to-face business events to resume and show that Australian businesses, many of which typically take events overseas each year, are ready to explore what’s possible for events in their own backyard.”