By Joyce DiMascio

As reported last week, micenet put a series of questions to federal minister for trade, tourism and investment Dan Tehan seeking clarification about support for the business events sector.

With confidence in the sector continually pounded through the stop/start impact of border closures and lockdowns, we asked the minister about whether there will be further support when JobKeeper ends next month; priority with the vaccine roll-out; and whether any funding from the $50 million business events funding program had reached anyone.

Our inquiry was passed from the minister’s office to the DFAT and Austrade media teams and then “the department”, and then back to the media teams. After three days we received a response in the form of a transcript from the minister’s media conference on the Gold Coast last week.

We are grateful that we received a response – but key questions were not answered. Instead, there was a reannouncement of a previous announcement from late last year and an inference that the Gold Coast was getting a $50 million funding boost.

Dan Tehan is a hard-working minister and he has a long affiliation with our industry. He was chief of staff to a previous federal tourism minister during the period when Scott Morrison headed up Tourism Australia. So you would hope that with these tourism veterans now holding the highest and most important parliamentary positions in the country, they would understand the critical state of our industry. And that we wouldn’t have to be on our knees begging for support.

Again today on ABC Radio, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that some industries like aviation and education, which had been hit hard, were being considered for special assistance beyond March when JobKeeper ends. Again, business events – or events of any kind – didn’t get mentioned.

Tehan was strident that at his meetings with tourism operators around the country he wants to hear first-hand what was needed. The damaging impact of sudden border closures on confidence was clear, he said.

“One of the things they’ve pleaded with me is to keep talking to tourism ministers right across this nation and impressing upon them to make sure that their governments can have their contact tracing up to speed, their testing up to speed, so border closures become a last resort,” he said.

“If we can get confidence back, people will travel, and what the industry wants more than anything is tourists.”

There are a whole range of things that need to be sorted, fast.

The roll-out of the vaccines from next week, we hope, will address the weaknesses occurring in the quarantine system and boost confidence again, providing the security to launch a much-needed timetable for the reopening of our industry – especially interstate and international travel.

Tehan will advocate hard for our industry. Send him the evidence for how you’ve been impacted. Send it to your federal and state members of parliament. Send it to your peak bodies – and keep supporting them.

We’ve been in this Covid-induced state for almost 12 months. Unlike some other industry sectors, ours is represented by a range of associations with limited resources. That has to be fixed too – and that is something the industry has to resolve.

It’s hard to roar, when you only have the funds to whisper.

This week the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia (EEAA) Chief Executive, Claudia Sagrapianti told us: “The Business Events Grants Program has stimulated interest from exhibitors, sponsors and attendees for exhibitions and conferences this year which indicates a level of business confidence returning. However, to ensure that confidence is not short-lived and that the sector survives, we need to see the grants start flowing through the supply chain as soon as possible, and we look forward to the minister clearing the hurdles for this to happen.”

TRANSCRIPT EXCERPT

Thursday February 11, 2021

Media Conference: minister for trade, tourism and investment Dan Tehan press conference with Angie Bell, Member for Moncrieff, Adrienne Readings, Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) general manager, Kos Sclavos AM, Australian Pharmacy Professional Conference and Trade Exhibition 2021 conference convenor and Christie McCormack, Hire and Rental Industry Association QLD President in Gold Coast, Queensland

SUBJECTS: Business Events Grants Program, ‘Event Here This Year’ tourism campaign, Support for the tourism sector, Vaccines, Trade diversification, Border closures, International tourists

Angie Bell: I welcome you all here this morning at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) and I’m with the minister for trade, tourism and investment minister Dan Tehan who has travelled to the Gold Coast, of course very important to tourism, to the Gold Coast, is tourism — so, we’re very pleased that he’s here… So, I would stand here and encourage every CEO around the country to come to the Gold Coast, to book in for your convention, and also to apply for the funding that the minister is about to announce. Thank you. Minister Tehan.

Dan Tehan: Business events are worth $36 billion to our national economy. And, what we have operating at the moment is a $50 million program to help encourage business events as we come out of this pandemic. Now, we already have 190 business events signed up to this program, 22 of which are here on the Gold Coast, which is absolutely fantastic but, what we want to encourage is more and more business events to register for this program. It’s a $50 million program and if you register for this program what it means is, for businesses who travel to your business event, the Australian Government will support those businesses anywhere between $10,000 to $250,000.

We want to be doing everything we can to encourage Australians to be having vacations again — to make sure that they’re visiting the wonderful, wonderful locations we have right across Australia. And, as part of that, we want to ensure that Australians have the confidence and, so to travel. What we really want to see, especially as we roll out the vaccine – and we’ve got terrific news again today with the reports out of the European Union that the vaccines will be arriving on time and our vaccine program will be being rolled out at the end of this month as planned – what we want Australians to do is to have the confidence to travel. We know that our state premiers and state territory leaders have the contact tracing in place. They’ve got the testing regimes in place. So, what we want to see as part of the vaccine rollout taking place is border closures be a last resort, because that will give Australians the confidence to travel …..

Tehan: And, to support the program that we’re running – our $50 million Business Events Program – we’re also going to be launching this weekend a ‘Event Here This Year’ marketing campaign to support our $36 billion industry, and that will start this Sunday and it goes on the back of what we’ve been doing to encouraging domestic tourism through our ‘Holiday Here This Year’ program. So, this ‘Event Here This Year’ program will be launched on Sunday. It’s a marketing campaign to support the $50 million campaign we’re running for business events. Happy to take any questions.

Journalist: Minister, is the $50 million, is it new funding, a new commitment, or is it existing funding that you’re just trying to raise awareness of so businesses can apply?

Tehan: So, the $50 million is a program that we launched late last year. We’ve now got about 190 businesses that have subscribed to the program for their business event. But, what we want to do is encourage other people who are holding business events to also to subscribe because what it will mean is that anyone who attends your event could get up to $10,000 or even up to $250,000 to come to your event. So, what we’re trying to do is raise awareness of the program, get more events to subscribe and, on the back of that, also what we’re announcing today is we’re going to be running an ‘Event Here This Year’ marketing campaign to also support business events right across this nation.

Journalist: Tourism operators are very concerned about the end of JobKeeper, obviously happening very soon. What’s your response to those operators who are concerned, who say there really needs to be ongoing, targeted support for the tourism industry?

Tehan: So, what I’ve been doing this week is visiting the wonderful locations that you have here in Queensland – I’m here in the Gold Coast today, I was here last night. I’ve been to the Whitsundays, I’ve been to Cairns, been to Port Douglas, talking to the Queensland tourism industry to hear from the coalface what are the challenges that they’re facing at the moment and what sort of support they would like post JobKeeper. The Government has been clear that JobKeeper will end at the end of March but, what we’ve also made clear is that we want to continue to provide support to the tourism sector as it deals with a lack of international tourists and also the challenges of these snap border closures. So, the reason I’m here in Queensland this week is to hear from the coalface, to listen. I’ll be doing more of that when I’m meeting with the Gold Coast tourism industry immediately after this press conference. I want to hear their views, what they think is needed. One of the clear messages, clear messages that I’ve received through all those tourism operators I’ve spoken to over the last week is that what they really want is the tourists back — that is what they’re looking for. They want the tourists back. So, as part of the message I’ll be taking back to Canberra where I’ll be talking to my colleagues is that we need to be doing everything we can to support tourists coming back to Queensland and coming back to the wonderful locations we have right across this nation.

Journalist: What were your thoughts when you heard the news this morning from the European Commission about, you know, proving the shipment of vaccines to Australia?

Tehan: Look, it’s absolutely wonderful news that the vaccines are on time and will be rolled out at the end of this month. I met with the European Union Ambassador last week. He assured me that the vaccines would arrive on time and to have this confirmed today is just wonderful news and will give great confidence right across the nation but, in particular, to our tourism sector.

Journalist: You said you’re looking at ways to support tourism operators once JobKeeper ends. Would that include financial assistance, perhaps rebranded under some other scheme?

Tehan: We’ve made it clear that JobKeeper is going to end at the end of the month, but I’ve really wanted to make sure that I’m out listening, trying to get suggestions, hear what the issues are. One thing that’s come to me loud and clear is that the snap border closures are killing confidence and killing confidence in people’s want to travel. And, so, one of the things they’ve pleaded with me is to keep talking to tourism ministers right across this nation and impressing upon them to make sure that their governments can have their contact tracing up to speed, their testing up to speed, so border closures become a last, last resort because, if we can get confidence back people will travel, and what the industry wants more than anything is tourists…..

Journalist: Do you think the QueenslandpPremier has a point that places like the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays and the reef, they rely really heavily on international tourists that we’re not going to see for a long time?

Tehan: Well, there are some parts of the Queensland tourism industry that obviously depend on international tourists and there are some parts that depend on domestic tourists, and right across the nation domestic tourism plays a far greater role in supporting jobs than international tourists do. But, what we have to do is we’ve got to work together, the federal government and the Queensland Government, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to get tourists back to Queensland, just like I need to work with every other state and territory government to get tourists back to their locations. And, what we really need is a way that we can make border closures a last resort, because if we can do that we’ll put confidence into people to travel, and that means dollars will come into local economies like here in the Gold Coast and, my real hope is with this wonderful news that we’ve got on the vaccine, is that we’ll see that confidence to travel come back and we’ll see state and territory governments really use their contact tracing and their testing regimes rather than border closures, and we’ll see a domestic tourism surge in this nation and that will help those 666,000 jobs.

Tehan: Thank you everyone.