By Brad Foster

BE Sydney CEO Lyn Lewis-Smith is confident the sector will return stronger than ever. But as she told Brad Foster last week, she just doesn’t know when.

Lyn Lewis-Smith could be described as an industry veteran but she probably wouldn’t like that tag. Like most people who have been through a range of disruptions – 911, the GFC, SARS, etcetera – she’s recognised that in the global world things happen from time to time.

But nothing like this.

“This year has certainly been one of the most eventful and challenging that I have experienced in my career, with impacts of COVID-19 being felt both in Australia and right across the world, and spanning all facets of our lives, business and the economy,” she said.

“Given the nature of our industry, the global meetings sector has been hugely impacted by the pandemic; with the important social distancing measures and travel restrictions that were put in place hitting our industry earlier and harder than most, and impacting the livelihoods of our global business events community.”

Too right there Lyn. So what do you do if your role is to win business for a city that is just not allowed to be held right at this time?

In the case of BESydney, you look beyond this year and keep doing what you’ve been doing as an organisation for more than 30 years.

“Whilst the situation evolves, I’m pleased to say that we continue to win global meetings and incentives for Sydney, bringing the total to 46 meetings ahead in 2021, subject to the opening timeline for Australia’s national borders, and 39 meetings for 2022 and beyond. This is a testament to the resilience of our industry, the can do attitude of my team and the teams of our partners and members.

“We do expect there will be further pent up demand coming out of a global lockdown – people still need to travel to engage, learn, conduct business activities, and trade with the rest of the world.”

And thank goodness for that. Our industry and people in it are hurting and Lyn and her team know that.

“It’s certainly been tough in such a close industry as ours, seeing so many friends stood down, and so much uncertainty around the future for so many businesses.

“I’m proud of how the BESydney team has responded. This period has changed the game for everyone. We have all learnt to adapt to the new norms and innovate to the new order and we are all working towards that. It has given us the rare opportunity of time. Time to reconnect and reimagine. Time to think deeply about our clients and their needs. Time to unearth new experiences. Time to further develop our own teams and work with our industry to be ready for tomorrow.

“We’ve collaborated well from afar using online webinar and meeting tools though of course, we’re in the business of connecting people and ideas and I know that we’re all excited about being able to come together as an organisation at the right time.

“The team has remained focused on our role to bring global meetings to Sydney and on staying connected with clients and partners, albeit in new ways.

“By staying focussed and adapting to the new environment, which will no doubt see a blend of face to face and virtual becoming the new norm for some time, if not forever, the industry will reopen and I’m confident that we are going to have our biggest year ever in 2021. Our numbers meeting face to face will of course start small, but as borders reopen those numbers will grow – and with virtual audiences combined, meetings can have even greater global reach and impact.”

While BESydney’s main aim is to attract international meetings to Sydney, the organisation has also been supporting its domestic partners.

“Through a domestic marketing campaign we will help to drive opportunities to the Sydney and NSW business events supply chain in preparation for the lifting of restrictions and expansion of ‘the bubble’ beyond NSW,” Lyn said.

“We are now in stabilisation and coming into recovery, and looking at how we reopen our industry in Sydney and Australia. We’re seeing green shoots in Sydney, as restrictions start to ease, and through our discussions with the Minister and Health Department we’re hopeful that we will be able to reopen in the coming months, with strict protocols in place.

“It’s pleasing to see Australia and New Zealand leading the way in determining how we can create a safe trans-Tasman bubble, potentially by September, and there is no reason why further bubbles cannot be created in the coming months with other countries that are deemed to have managed the pandemic well.”

Once restrictions do ease, part of the challenge will be to get people getting together again at meetings, which Lyn acknowledges. Part of BESydney’s strategy will be emphasizing health and safety.

“We’ve been gathering and sharing information on Sydney’s focus on being COVID-safe and having the highest of health protocols in place. To this end we are in talks with the City of Sydney and our strategic partners and members, and we are working with the government to bring various parties together on this matter.

“Side-by-side with our industry colleagues, we’re working closely with the NSW Government to look at how we can restart our sector promptly and safely, and give our clients the confidence to meet face to face once again.”

Let’s hope that that dream comes a reality very soon.