As restrictions start to lift across the country, Australian Event Organisers are waiting to hear when they can begin planning events again. Empty venues and idled suppliers are keen for direction and a roadmap to recovery.
What kind of events will return first? What safety and hygiene measures will need to be taken? What kind of financial support might the government offer?
The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), represent the industry and have a direct line with the Morrison Government. Dr Vanessa Findlay, BECA’s Chair, has been at the table with ministers discussing and planning the industry’s recovery.
The details of the Business Events Response and Recovery Framework—which are set to release in “a matter of weeks”—outline BECA’s request for industry-specific government support, including new operating procedures and financial aid.
Dr Findlay sat down with our editor to discuss the measures being tabled in meetings with ministers and to talk about the practical ways they might help strapped Event Organisers and suppliers.
In an exclusive, Dr Findlay has now confirmed the Government has acknowledged that business events are different to ‘mass gatherings’
EXPECT INTERSTATE AND LOCAL BUSINESS FIRST
The first step is domestic events said Dr Findlay. While international borders remain closed, Event Organisers can expect the first people back on the event floor—and the first deposits paid—to be Australian.
“Getting as many events back as quickly as possible will require a domestic focus, international borders aren’t going to be open any time soon.”
But it’s not smooth sailing, as state borders remain closed and domestic travel is still restricted.
“There’s plenty of complexity, we’ve got interstate borders, we’ve got regional and metropolitan issues to take account of as well.”
EVENT HYGIENE GUIDELINES ARE COMING
To speed up the process of getting these events back online, Event Organisers need to demonstrate their events are safe and won’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Dr Findlay and BECA are drafting up industry-wide safety and hygiene guidelines for organisers to follow.
“We need to make sure we can meet the [safety & hygiene] requirements of government, but we also need to rebuild the confidence of people attending business events.”
WHAT ABOUT THE DOLLARS?
With cashflow’s drying up, Event Organisers and operators are facing a challenge. How are they going to come up with enough money to run an event? Even if a contract is secured, how can event managers front the immediate costs of staff, equipment and so on?
Dr Findaly said the report will propose a stimulus package that encourages people and businesses to put deposits down on events as soon as possible.
To encourage bookings, BECA is suggesting the government support the funding of an event’s cost. There are no specifics on this yet, but we figure this will work like the in-laws paying for a percentage of the wedding.
“We want to motivate, incentivise and encourage businesses to book events. We are hoping to focus that money on people paying deposits because as soon as deposits go down, we are getting cash flow back into the system.”
“We want to give people confidence, or at least the motivation to say, ‘we were a bit nervous about booking our event, now we’ve got these government dollars, we are prepared to take the risk.’”
“The government dollars will go directly to paying the deposit for the venue, the AV providers, the hospitality providers, the decorators—all of the contributing components that make up a successful event.”
Whether this incentive, plus existing support like Jobkeeper, will be enough to keep every event business above water is hard to judge. But, according to Dr Findlay, BECA is focused on making sure the industry as a whole comes out of COVID swinging.
“I completely understand [these incentives] may not be enough for every business. But what we’ve got to do is make sure we are maintaining a core capacity as an industry, so that when we come out of this we can rebuild as quickly as possible.”
BREAKING GROUND OVERSEAS
In the second stage of their Framework, Dr Findlay and BECA are going to push for international events—using Australia’s success at containing the virus as a diving-board into the international market.
“Because of the long lead times for international events, we can’t wait for the government to announce the borders are open—we would have missed the kick.”
“We are hoping we can gain more of a market share than we had pre-COVID, by getting in front of the marketing curve.”
“We want to make sure people understand that Australia has done one of the best jobs at containing COVID. We should be one of the first markets [international events] come to.”
WHAT ABOUT AFTER?
When the COVID-19 restrictions lift and meetings and events return to normal, BECA and Dr Findlay plan on holding the Government’s ear and continue pushing for more support.
This, in Dr Findlay’s opinion, comes down to marketing Australia as an event destination a bit differently.
“It’s not about people visiting Australia because they want to pat a kangaroo or cuddle a koala, people want to visit Australia to share in our knowledge—our scientific disciplines, our health systems.”
“Business events are focused on different things [than tourism]. That needs to be taken account of in policy from this point forward.”
A seat at the table means BECA will need firm ground to stand on, and Dr Findlay confirmed that the organisation will need to develop a stronger footing in the future.
“The fact is that the business event industry is such a large direct economic contributor, and serves as a catalyst for more business. I think the opportunity [to develop a stronger footing] has never been greater.”