Sustainability ‘a strategic priority’ for Tourism Australia

Tourism Australia Portraits. Photo credit - James Horan

CIM spoke with Robin Mack, Tourism Australia Executive General Manager of Commercial & Business Events Australia, about the year ahead as Australia looks to reopen to the world.

When do you see a return of international events of any scale? While it’s difficult to predict exactly when travel from other key international markets to Australia will resume, we’re excited to be welcoming back fully vaccinated Singaporean travellers with quarantine free travel to Australia along with eligible visa holders from Japan and South Korea, from 1 December. This is in addition to the established arrangements in place with New Zealand. These developments are an incredibly positive and crucial step towards the recovery of the business events industry, and encouragingly, we are seeing business leads from our key international markets for late 2022 and beyond.

Throughout the ongoing challenges of the global pandemic, Australia’s business events industry has continued to convert future business for Australia. Since the global COVID-19 pandemic started in January 2020, the Business Events Bid Fund Program has supported 28 new event wins worth approximately $163 million, with recent wins for events in 2023 and 2024. These include the World Conference on Ecological Restoration, which will be hosted in Darwin; the 49th International Conference on Infrared, Millimeter and Terahertz Waves (IRMMW-THz 2024) and the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) Congress, both of which will be held in Perth in 2024.

In addition, our recent international research, the Business Events Consumer Demand Project, shows Australia remains a desirable destination. Seventy-nine per cent of association decision makers claim they are likely to visit Australia for an event in the next two years, while 69 per cent of incentive decision makers claim they are likely to visit Australia in the next two years – rising to 82 per cent in the next three years. It’s great to see such high intention to travel to Australia and the potential opportunities when international events are able to resume.

Will Australia see more overseas delegates opting for online participation? I think it’s important to note that while we have all adapted to online experiences, it’s not the same as the experience of face-to-face events, nor the preferred experience for an event where networking and/or team building might be a key element. From innovative ideas that come out of networking opportunities with colleagues at a conference, to rewarding your team through an incentive program, as a global community who for the most part have experienced some form of lockdown, we understand the power of meaningful connection and it simply can’t be replicated virtually.

We anticipate that hybrid event options will still be needed for associations in the short to medium term, and while there will be some delegates that select this option, our research shows demand for in person events is high. As we continue to market Australia’s exceptional business events offering and unique experiences, we hope to entice more people to opt to attend in person.

Will Australia see a return of Chinese incentive groups of the scale before Covid? With outbound travel on hold, many groups have postponed their 2021 events until 2022. Feedback from in-market suggests we can start to expect a return of Chinese incentive groups to Australia from late 2022 onwards. We are expecting to see an increase in business leads when more information is available around borders reopening.

In the meantime, we have continued to inspire and engage customers in China through our marketing and distribution activity throughout the pandemic to ensure we are optimally positioned for when travel resumes. We have delivered some key recovery projects focused on this specific market, such as the launch of our WeChat Mini Program in February this year and next year we will be launching the redevelopment of the Business Events Australia China website, creating an integrated digital presence in market. In addition, we have continued to engage with customers through our Best Partner Program, Business Events Australia seminars, attending industry trade shows and we will once again be hosting our hybrid Business Events Australia China Showcase in 2022.

Which international markets might help fill the gap? Prior to the global pandemic and in its early stages, the business events sector was a strong performing sector for Australia with 950,000 visitors, spending A$4.02 billion for the year to 31 March 2020. New Zealand was our largest by visitors at 227,000 and the United States of America was our largest by spend at A$779 million.

Tourism Australia will continue to focus on the international markets offering the best potential return on investment for Australia. Our focus has included the USA and the United Kingdom/ Europe for both the incentive and association sectors, and China, New Zealand and South and South East Asia for the incentive sector. In addition, we temporarily entered the domestic market to offset the fall in international visitation, while travel has been paused.

As markets open again, like Singapore, we will increase our focus on conversion driving activity to capitalise on short to mid-term business; as well as position Australia for long term growth, making sure our prospective customers know we’re open and ready to welcome delegates back to enjoy our exceptional destinations, world-class venues and unique experiences.

The Brisbane Olympics will be the first Games that has to be ‘climate positive’ – is this a trend for all large international events? Sustainability is a key focus for the business events industry, and one that many products and destinations are taking seriously.

Take for example Melbourne, which was recently ranked the 11th most sustainable city in the world for business events in the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index). Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the first centre in the world to be awarded the 6-star Green Star rating for its environmental design and operational features, is in the process of transforming its Siddeley Street carpark into a 2,000sqm rooftop farm which will feature sustainable dining and provide around five tonnes of produce each year.

Then there are products like Crystalbrook Collection Hotels & Resorts, which have adapted sustainable practices across their businesses from paperless check-in to checkout and room keys that are made from 100 per cent recycled wood to iPads replacing their in-room brochures.

Sustainability is also a strategic priority for Tourism Australia, which we aim to embed in all our activities across the business including our own events such as ATE.

As sustainability is a key focus for our customers, our Australian cities, venues and operators continue to highlight the incredible work they have been doing to reduce emissions, create best practices for the industry and to achieve a more sustainable future for all.

Many events have rescheduled for 2022 with venues having to juggle new bookings with original ones – will this see a push into the regions and alternative venues? Market intelligence suggests some regional destinations have been prospering during the global pandemic, with many businesses heading out of the cities to enjoy a change of scenery. Feedback from industry also suggests many venues within the cities are also seeing a demand in bookings for events, especially since the ease of restrictions.

Over last 18 months we’ve seen a range of new and exciting event venues open giving event planners more choice when re-booking events. For example, CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park, a venue that spans over 4,500 square metres across three levels, opened in September. While the WINX function centre at Royal Randwick in Sydney will open in December with a capacity of up to 4,000 people.

It’s great to hear there is pent up demand that is materialising into business for Australia’s business events industry.

TA has been active in overseas markets during the last 18 months – how will the messaging change as we come out of the pandemic? We will continue to be active internationally and adjust our tone of voice to drive urgency in taking action to book a business event in Australia.

As markets begin to open, like Singapore, we will deliver a targeted PR, social media, content and marketing push to drive awareness that Australia is open and ready to welcome back business events. In addition, we will deliver a familiarisation program, when the time is right, to bring qualified business events planners and media out to Australia to experience our offering first-hand.