‘Talking among ourselves’ Dr Leo Jago on BECA’s push to be heard by government

BECA Chair Dr Leo Jago says the event industry needs to develop relationships with government at both a federal and state level.

CIM spoke with Dr Leo Jago, the new Independent Chair of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), about the continued importance of government lobbying as the sector emerges from two years of restrictions.

Was the pandemic a wake-up call for the events industry in terms of government priority? That’s been a shock to everyone because we all think we are more important than other people do.

It was clear, government just doesn’t understand the business events sector. It’s not easily measured and there is limited understanding beyond the tourism value.

A lot of what we thought was cut through was us talking among ourselves. I think we have convinced ourselves of the importance of business events but I don’t think we have done much to convince those we need to convince.

The only plus side to that is that it has forced the industry to come together more substantially. In the second half of the pandemic the industry moved towards a single voice and that was really positive.

What is your first priority as Chair? One of the things I’m trying to do is meet with the ministers and advisors in the other portfolios, not just tourism. We need to get to the trade dimension as business events can help underpin the recovery of the rest of the economy. We have a minister that is now responsible for trade and tourism. Look at the contribution exhibitions make to building trade. Conferences enhance innovation and enhance productivity, all things the economy as a whole needs.

How can BECA build on the foundation it forged during the pandemic? One of the things BECA is really keen to do is to obtain more data sources out there to effectively build our case.

Tourism Research Australia (TRA) has the IVS and NVS which doesn’t reflect the business events sector well. But I’m looking to see what the TRA are doing about merging some of the other data sets such as credit card data to monitor and measure information in another way. It’s not a quick fix though.

We have come together on a federal level but there is also a state dimension. Given that much of the infrastructure for events is delivered by the states we have got to make sure that message filters down to a state level as well.

Clearly the big players at the state level are the convention centres and convention bureaux. But the difficulty is they are largely state funded so their ability to advocate and lobby government is limited.

How does the industry capitalise on the in-roads made with government over the last two years? Previous Independent Chair Dr Vanessa Findlay knew the system well and was a very effective lobbyist. She was instrumental in developing the BECA COVID-19 Recovery & Rebound Framework, allowing industry to rally with one voice.

But relationships are built with certain ministers and then ministers change.

So much has been done on the tourism industry’s THRIVE 2030 plan and (former BECA Deputy Chair) Geoff Donaghy worked hard to make sure business events has a voice in that. One of the things we would hate to see if a new government is elected they throw out THRIVE and return to consultation because industry has had a gutful of this process.

Credit must be given to BECA’s Company Secretary Andrew Hiebl and Vanessa for the very positive relationships that BECA has developed with Austrade and Tourism Australia, in addition to last year’s BE Industry Roundtable in partnership with Tourism Australia, a critical activity that we are repeating next week – it’s fantastic.