By Joyce DiMascio

The Gold Coast is an important business events destination for both the national and international markets. Its centrepiece venue is the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) which is led by Adrienne Readings, one of our industry’s most capable venue operators.

It’s been a tough nine months. The centre re-opened in June 2020 and has been running Covid-safe events outside its traditional market segments including the film and TV production industries.

Its location and facilities have made it the ideal venue for a top-secret new Netflix Series featuring Chris Hemsworth – as well as 23 school formals, socially-distanced and with red-carpet streamed to parents.

These opportunities have helped the centre achieve 20 per cent of 2020 revenue targets – and that’s been better than no revenue. The Gold Coast’s economy has suffered enormously – especially with its biggest source market of greater Sydney shut-down at short notice.

But the tremendous adaptability of Adrienne’s team in the worst possible times has helped keep the lights on and people employed.

Let’s hope that the Gold Coast and all other destinations can benefit from the re-opening of interstate borders announced in recent days.

Adrienne Readings, general manager and CEO of GCCEC spoke with Joyce DiMascio.

Q. 2020 was a tough one for our sector due to the highs and lows of Covid – where did Gold Coast land?

A. The Gold Coast as a destination has suffered to enormously. At one stage we had two flights coming into the Gold Coast per week. Just when we felt there were some positive signs and a bounce-back from travel over the festive season, we lost the opportunity to attract Greater Sydney, one of our biggest markets.

Q. How did the GCCEC adapt?

Covid hit our business like a tsunami, as it did with every other event business globally. After a month of just being in shock and working our way through cancellations and postponements, we identified three key areas to work on to get through to the other side: mobilisation, community benefits and business as usual.  These activities gave purpose and productivity to the team, which was important for mental health.

The mobilisation project was initially very challenging in an unknown and ever-changing landscape but the GCCEC Mobilisation Team worked tirelessly to identify what procedures and policies needed to be implemented to adapt to the situation created by the pandemic. Our success in this came down to trust, honesty, transparency and collaboration across all levels of the team.

Community benefits project: We looked at how we could help the community that was less fortunate than us and how we could go about it. We identified the need for providing meals to the people most affected by the pandemic and job losses. I am very proud that with support from suppliers including Metcash (IGA), Gold Coast Community Fund and the support for charities through the federal government, we raised enough money and product to supply more than 50,000 cooked meals.  In addition, we also offered our technical production teams to schools to assist the online training program for home schooling.

Business as usual: This was more about relocating event bookings during the lockdown period and then trying to preserve what we could when we were open for business again in June 2020.  Although Queensland seemed to be faring better than other states, there was still a reluctance to commit and frankly, in some parts there still is. While we have had some highly successful conventions and events in the past six months, we are still combating the lockdown of the borders and the fear factor.

Q. What’s happening at the centre now and what business do you see coming through in 2021?

A. We were fortunate enough to negotiate a Netflix film production for a five-month period. That has provided sustainable employment for the team and a source of income. This film wraps up in February.

We have several entertainment events and expos booked in – Wedding Expo this month, Delta Goodrem, Guy Sebastian, Keith Urban and Tina Arena, as well as Carl Barron. Some business events have postponed, and several are still going ahead as planned.

We are continuing to attract bookings and enquiries from national convention business as clients learn to adapt conferences and meetings to a mixture of face-to-face and online opportunities.

From May, we have a healthy forecast of domestic events coming back to the Gold Coast with a mixture of face-to-face and hybrid inbuilt should there be any border closures.

International bookings are often planned several years in advance, so those conversations and proposals are ongoing.

Q. Have you kept on all staff? What is the current situation?

 A. While we are most likely going to achieve around 20 per cent of our normal revenue for 2020, we have lost around two-thirds of our causal team and some have been with us for up to 15 years, so that is a big low!

The casuals have suffered with the lack of sustainable business and most have looked for other opportunities. We have encouraged this and have facilitated other opportunities of casual work for team members.  We hope to attract some of those team members back when business picks up.