The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) has appeared before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 to reinforce the case for ongoing support for Australia’s business events industry.

At the hearing, BECA called for targeted government support that will build confidence and create momentum for people to get back to in-person business events.

In a statement, BECA said that border restrictions represent the most significant challenge to the recovery of business events, an industry that employs 229,000 people and is worth $35.7 billion.

BECA chair, Dr Vanessa Findlay said: “We are continuing to work with government in-line with the recovery and rebound framework for the business events industry to drive industry specific support packages that will regain business confidence and drive momentum to see the return of business events.”

BECA is also working with Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham, the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit, the National COVID-19 Commission and the insurance industry to resolve the insurance issues that are undermining confidence in planning events.

Dr Findlay explained to the Senate Committee that: “We haven’t been able to gain clarity from the insurance industry that an event that is cancelled as a result of a pandemic is actually covered. And, of course, that severely undermines the confidence of people to book an event and know that, if it’s cancelled as a result of government restrictions, they can cover costs.”

BECA’S statement continued by saying that JobKeeper is a vital lifeline for the business events industry and that before the wage subsidy was introduced, job losses were predicted to exceed 90,000. It is now estimated that around 110,000 employees across the industry are being supported by JobKeeper which is supporting 96 per cent of businesses to retain their employees.

“Last year over 480,000 business events were held in Australia and over 43 million people attended a business event in the form of a meeting, convention, exhibition or incentive event,” the statement read.

“In a recent survey conducted by BECA, 67 per cent of businesses said they don’t have any business events confirmed for 2020 and 48 per cent of businesses said they don’t have any business events confirmed for 2021 either.”

CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, Andrew Hiebl, said during the hearing: “While enquiry levels remain relatively high, risk of future lockdowns and restrictions imposed on business events by states and territories hit confidence and make it extremely difficult for organisers to sign supplier agreements and pay deposits.

“In addition, our industry has invested time and effort to develop COVID safe plans, but in many jurisdictions, are not able to enact them.”

Dr Findlay concluded her evidence to the committee by outlining a program that is under development: “For business events industry businesses to provide a level of support that they need about making decisions around sustainability and viability into the future.”

Dr Findlay pointed out to the committee that: “We have now faced, close to zero revenue for six months.

“While it might be reasonable to expect a business to look after itself for that period of time anything beyond that is now very serious danger territory for every business in our industry.”

BECA will now package up the very comprehensive survey data that has been collated, together with the Business Events Industry Recovery and Rebound Framework and the BECA COVIDSafe Guidelines and provide them to the Committee as a basis for their ongoing considerations and for use in its report.