By Joyce DiMascio

Around the nation, the wheels of a scaled back business events sector are turning again.

Our industry has held on, clinging to life with the support of governments, landlords and, importantly, staff who have taken lower wages and adapted to different roles.

The industry has worked together on its national advocacy through the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA). With scarce resources and under the stewardship of Dr Vanessa Findlay, a pragmatic policy and political head, the largely volunteer-based board and councillors continued to knock on doors looking for support and a roadmap to recovery.

But what have we learnt from this most turbulent period?

As the wheels start to turn on the domestic business events market, are we going to do anything differently in the future to build a stronger, more effective, more politically savvy voice for our whole industry.

Some say it’s long overdue.

The challenge is to stop thinking and talking like events people and start thinking and talking like politicians.

Put simply, that should be at the core of the industry’s approach to advocacy.

For the reality is, that despite our sector’s ability to deliver safe events and track, monitor and trace attendees – we have been the last industry to be given permission to restart. Sporting events kicked off again long before business events.

After leading the peak body the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) for nine years – and lifting the profile of the industry at both national and state levels – I know from my first-hand experience that it’s a tough gig to get through to governments. We’re competing against highly resourced industry bodies – all wanting a share of voice and share of budgets.

Governments and their agencies want to hear the solutions and they want these from one source, not from a wide-ranging group of associations.

Speaking to micenet, Dr Findlay was positive about the progress made. She said the collaboration through BECA was strong, but the structure of how the industry represents itself now needed to be reviewed.

She also said that the advocacy aspirations of the industry are not supported by the right “toolkit to prosecute the case to government efficiently and effectively and like other industries competing for the attention of government.”

She hopes there is an appetite for change amongst all the associations and their members.  Ultimately it will come down to “appetite for change versus necessity – and necessity will force a relook at the representative groups.”

“Our political capital is important – and at a federal level we achieved a package of support. Not all industries achieved this. But we do need to also look at whether the representation to state governments could also have been done better.”

The EEAA has made several attempts to bring other industry associations to the table to explore a new representation model.

Last week, outgoing CEO of Meetings and Events Australia (MEA), Robyn Johnson said that she had not been in favour of this in the past, but it was now time to have one voice.

The newly formed board of MEA says it will continue to collaborate with other peak bodies. Its statement to micenet was understated and did not suggest any significant change in disposition. It sounded like more of the same from MEA which has been impacted financially in recent times and is also without a CEO.

MEA’s new chair Nigel Collin did not wish to comment but vice chair, Suzana Bishop said: “MEA recognises the need to collaborate with other industry bodies to deliver on our collective goals for the industry. The newly formed MEA board will work closely with members and will devise a strategy for MEA’s future that best reflects the needs of our industry.”

President of the EEAA, Spiro Anemogiannis questioned whether, in the current environment, suppliers, venues and other sponsors will still support all associations or just focus on a single major one.

“I think the market will now sort all the associations out,” he said.

A lot has changed during Covid. Our vulnerability has been experienced by everyone. We have lost some of our best people.  We have had to compete very hard to get the ear of governments. The impact of technology has accelerated and assisted our industry to function in a very reduced form.

At present, many companies are reviewing their costs and most are questioning the ROI from membership fees paid to multiple organisations that do the similar things: networking, advocacy, education and research.

For our industry to prosper and rebuild – and also be prepared for future crises, it needs to consider the shape of the industry and how best to represent it.

If ever there was a time to create a single, powerful well-resourced peak body for the whole of business events, it’s now.

What are you waiting for “leaders”? Get on with redesigning a fit-for-purpose peak body. If not, we’ll always be the last cab off the rank. For if there is one thing that is certain – another crisis will come our way. Let’s be ready, with a well-resourced single voice for the whole of business events.