Opinion by Andrew Hiebl, Executive Director
In terms of international business events, Australia punches well above its weight. Given our geographic challenges in relation to access from Europe and the US, to be ranked 13th in the world according to the International Congress & Convention Association’s (ICCA) Country and City Rankings Report 2012 (and as high as 6th in 1997) is testament to a strong, vigilant and cooperative business events sector.
Until a shift in the tectonic plates position us more favourably in a global context, we will have to continue to rely on the strength of our assets, marketing ability and unique experiences. Our portfolio of convention centres is world class, and will only be further enhanced by a new International Convention Centre in Sydney, scheduled for completion in late 2016. And don’t forget the quality food and wine offerings by our venues and restaurants, where access to local and fresh produce is undoubtedly recognised as one of our key strengths by international visitors – just take a look at Tourism Australia’s “Restaurant Australia” campaign.
Australia is a highly desirable and safe place to visit with postcard natural and manmade icons– one of those bucket list countries – but that doesn’t always cut it when it comes to destination selection for international conventions. Irrespective of our physical attributes and desirable status, increased investment in tourism marketing and infrastructure capacity by our competitors (especially in Asia and the Middle-East) will continue to threaten Australia as a business events destination.
Although a country’s physical assets will always be critical to destination selection, Australia’s recent success has been to tap into its intellectual assets. Australia’s convention bureaux are continuing utilise local experts in the bidding process through ambassador programs and partnerships with the university sector, devoting focus to our world renowned researchers, scientists and business leaders – playing to our industry strengths.
The game changer, on the other hand, will be our industry’s ability to strategically engage with future Australian Governments. As a result of the recent Federal election the responsibility for business events has shifted to the Minister for Trade and Investment (from Resources, Energy and Tourism), upholding a pre-election commitment by the Coalition. Finally, we can begin to start discussing the real benefits of our sector across industries and beyond the simplistic view of visitation and economic expenditure. We can now focus on outcomes such as productivity, innovation, trade, investment and the knowledge economy.
The challenge for Australia’s convention bureaux over coming years will be to collectively align their bidding strategies with Government priorities in combination with successful international marketing campaigns.