The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) appeared before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19, represented by Dr Vanessa Findlay, Chair of BECA, and Andrew Hiebl, CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, to reinforce the case for ongoing support for Australia’s AUD35.7 billion business events industry and the 229,000 people it employs.
Like many other sectors in the visitor economy, Australia’s business events industry is experiencing a hiatus. Measures have been put in place to sustain the industry in the short term. However, with state border closures maintained and continued restrictions on gathering size, further support will be needed if the industry is going to get through this.
At the hearing, BECA called for targeted government support that will build confidence and create momentum for people to get back to in-person business events.
BECA Chair, Dr Vanessa Findlay said: “We are working with the government on the recovery and rebound framework for the business events industry to drive industry-specific support packages that will regain business confidence and drive momentum for the return of business events.”
Business events trying to make a comeback
Border restrictions continue to impose the most significant challenge impeding the recovery of the business events industry. To overcome this, BECA’s COVIDSafe Guidelines differentiate business events from mass gatherings and introduces measures that enable business events to occur in COVID safe environments.
These guidelines provide confidence for the states and territories to lift restrictions to restart of business events, which will see the industry rebound, boost the whole visitor economy and restart the transfer of knowledge across all industries. Without face-to-face meetings, it is difficult for any of this can happen.
BECA is also working with Minister Birmingham, the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit, the National COVID-19 Commission and the insurance industry to resolve the insurance issues that are undermining confidence in planning events.
Dr Findlay explained to the Senate Committee: “We haven’t been able to gain clarity from the insurance industry that event cancellations as a result of a pandemic can be covered. And, of course, that severely undermines the confidence of people booking an event and knowing that if it is cancelled as a result of government restrictions, they can cover costs.”
Studies show a huge portion of Australian event professionals supported by JobKeeper scheme
JobKeeper continues to be a vital lifeline for the business events industry with job losses predicted to exceed 90,000 before the wage subsidy scheme was introduced. It is estimated that around 110,000 employees across the industry are being supported by JobKeeper, which is supporting 96 percent of businesses to retain their employees.
Last year, more than 480,000 business events were held in Australia and over 43 million people attended a business event in the form of a meeting, convention, exhibition or incentive event. In a recent survey conducted by BECA, 67 percent of businesses said they don’t have any business events confirmed for 2020 and 48 percent of businesses said they don’t have any business events confirmed for 2021 either.
AACB CEO, Andrew Hiebl, said during the hearing: “While enquiry levels remain relatively high, risks of future lockdowns and restrictions imposed on business events by states and territories hit confidence and make it extremely difficult for organisers to sign supplier agreements and pay deposits. Also, our industry has invested time and effort to develop COVID-safe plans, but in many jurisdictions, we are not able to enact them.”
Dr Findlay concluded her evidence to the committee by outlining a programme that is under development “for business events industry businesses to provide a level of support that they need about making decisions around sustainability and viability into the future”. Dr Findlay pointed out to the committee, “We have now faced close to zero revenue for six months. While it might be reasonable to expect a business to look after itself for that period, anything beyond that is now very serious danger territory for every business in our industry.”
BECA will now collate the very comprehensive survey data together with the Business Events Industry Recovery and Rebound Framework and the BECA COVIDSafe Guidelines and provide them to the committee as a basis for their ongoing considerations and use in their report.