Australia sharpens its focus on attracting international business events as borders reopen. In an interview with Robin Mack, Executive General Manager of Commercial & Business Events Australia, Tourism Australia, we find out how the country has adapted, how it will be propelling itself towards long-term growth, what new venues and experiences have sprung up, and more.
BEAM: What marketing and distribution activities inspired and engaged customers during the two years that Australian borders were closed?
Robin Mack: Maintaining engagement allowed Tourism Australia to remain top-of-mind as a future business events destination. Like everyone, we could no longer rely on traditional face-to-face distribution activity to sell our offerings, so we dialled up our marketing efforts and delivered a suite of key recovery projects to position Australia optimally for reopening.
Our global content marketing strategy took on a new direction by introducing a range of new initiatives that catered to the shift in customer attitudes and behaviours throughout the pandemic.
For the association sector, we launched a new video series, Australia Innovates, showcasing Australians pursuing world-firsts across science and technology where delegates can come and experience our diversity and creativity first-hand.
We continued to distribute Australia Next, our incentive inspiration magazine, but in a digital format and across a greater range of markets. We really wanted to ensure we kept planners connected with Australia and well-informed about our new tourism products, experiences and offerings.
Across Greater China, we utilised WeChat to connect with customers and introduced a dedicated business events WeChat Mini Program to build on our digital presence in this market, including our dedicated Chinese website.
We developed a range of easily accessible information on the newly revamped Business Events Australia website for planners to stay abreast of the latest updates in Australia, including COVID-19 guidelines and case studies of COVID-safe events – plus tools to facilitate business event planning in Australia. The Business Events Australia toolkit is another free, ready-to-use resource hub for marketing and promotional activities.
We also continued distribution activity and delivered a mix of face-to-face, hybrid and virtual events, including the Business Events Australia Asia Showcase 2022 which took place in March, and the industry indicated all buyers were positive about future incentive business for Australia for late 2022 and beyond. In China, the team delivered training and seminars, and hosted Best Partner Programs, and the India team attended the MILTC trade show to connect with Indian buyers. Across the region, our team stayed connected with customers to keep Australia front-of-mind as the borders re-opened.
Our programmes are always backed by research, and over the pandemic we took the opportunity to invest in research to help inform our approach to rebuild demand from our key markets, and support industry in the process.
We were heartened by the findings of our Business Events Consumer Demand Project research piece last year, which showed that the majority of decision makers across both the incentive and association sectors were planning to hold either the same number of events or more post-pandemic, with increased budgets – this signals a strong opportunity for Australia’s business events recovery, now that our borders are open.
What are some of the top new and innovative experiences for event planners to discover?
Vast landscapes and natural beauty make Australia an ideal destination to inspire innovation and creativity – and for Business Events clients, we offer a consistent pipeline of fresh opportunities for delegates to discover something new.
Over the last two years, Australia’s infrastructure boom has continued to roll on with the development of new accommodations, venues and experiences.
Sydney’s new openings include the Kimpton Margot Sydney, the Australian debut of IHG Hotels & Resorts’ luxury Kimpton Hotels brand; the six-star 349-room Crown Towers Sydney; and the Winx Stand at Sydney’s Royal Randwick Racecourse, which provides a range of flexible function spaces and state-of-the-art technology.
In Queensland, a trifecta of incredible new venues have opened. The Crystalbrook Flynn opened in Cairns, the Cairns Convention Centre underwent a major refurbishment in 2021 opening up an additional 10,000 sqm of event space, and in Brisbane, The Princess Theatre – one of the city’s most recognisable heritage buildings – has been transformed into a leading music hall, theatre and events space, now boasting five unique spaces available for hire.
In Melbourne, the Southern Hemisphere’s first permanent digital art gallery, THE LUME, debuted at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, offering an 11-metre-high immersive branding opportunity. In Adelaide, a five-star Sofitel opened in the CBD boasting 251 luxurious guest rooms and suites, while the much-anticipated Sequoia Lodge offers a luxurious escape in the Adelaide Hills, just an hour from Adelaide International Airport.
There is a rising demand for more sustainable business events products and experiences, including more eco-friendly venue and accommodation options. Our business events industry has continued to evolve to meet these needs, and many have launched new offerings. Among the experiences slated to open in mid-2022 is Melbourne Skyfarm, a thriving urban farm and environmental oasis, embracing eco-friendly urban practices and featuring a sustainable café, education programmes, conference facilities and event spaces.
Due to changing regulations, lead times for conferences and events have gotten shorter, with a higher tendency to pull out at the last minute. How will Business Events Australia support that demand?
The pandemic has shifted the way business events are planned and executed. We understand the nature of holding events amidst such uncertainty and our industry have done an incredible job of catering to the ‘new normal’.
Our hotels and venues offer flexibility where possible to provide confidence for customers planning business events. Hotels and venues have robust COVID-safe protocols in place and follow the relevant government guidelines. ITOs (Inbound Tour Operators) and DMCs (Destination Management Companies) continue to collaborate with clients and suppliers to mitigate risk.
The Business Events Australia website has a dedicated COVID-19 page which contains the latest meeting and event guidelines across Australia. Updated regularly, this page provides planners with information on the current travel information to Australia as well as useful links to assist them with planning.
What is the interest like following reopening?
Since the reopening announcement, we have been receiving a growing number of enquiries from businesses across the Asia region.
We already have confirmed groups from South and South East Asia who will be holding events in Australia now and into 2023 and beyond. In South East Asia, there is evidence of pent-up demand for smaller group events ranging from 100 to 500 pax capacity; while in India, pent-up demand is high especially looking towards the upcoming cricket season. We’ve also seen enquiries about business events offerings in Cairns and Perth from direct selling and insurance industries.
Additionally, we have received an uptick in enquiries from Japan and Korea. The Japanese planners are primarily interested in East Coast destinations like Cairns, the Gold Coast and Sydney, and are looking to arrange an incentive programme that includes a one-day or half-day conference. The industries they’re focusing on are direct selling, insurance, and electronics, and we’ve seen that there is strong demand for factoring sustainable and wellness experiences into their incentive programmes.
What is the latest on Business Events Bid Fund Program?
In 2021, we announced an additional AUD3 million (USD2.25 million) in funding for the Business Events Bid Fund Program to cover new pledges and bids throughout 2021-22. The programme continues to successfully drive conversion for international business events with 60 events won via the Business Events Bid Fund Program worth AUD467 million as of 22 February 2022.
Recent wins include FIG Working Week 2025, which will be hosted in Brisbane and the Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2023, which will be held in Melbourne.
The Commercial division in Tourism Australia includes marketing operations for Domestic and Western priority leisure markets: New Zealand, UK, USA, Germany, France, Italy and Canada, along with overseeing distribution development and partnerships globally. Business Events Australia is the specialist unit building awareness and consideration of Australia as a business events destination by delivering targeted marketing and communications, industry partnerships and a trade distribution programme.
Robin Mack has worked in the travel and tourism industry for almost 30 years, working across travel retailers, wholesalers and airlines including British Airways and Qantas before focusing on destination marketing. Robin joined Tourism Australia in 2012 and has held several roles including Head of Distribution Development and Partnerships, Acting Executive General Manager International, Executive General Manager Commercial and is now Executive General Manager Commercial & Business Events Australia.