The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) is calling on Australia’s state and federal leaders to commit to an evidence-based approach to managing internal borders, claiming that if the business events industry is limited to conducting state-based events, it will “not recover”.

In a statement, BECA said: “One month in to 2021 and the business events industry continues to face uncertainty, severelimitations and restrictions compromising its pathway to recovery and survival.

“Throughout 2020, the industry invested heavily in preparing its businesses to deliver COVID Safe events in terms of protocols, training and infrastructure and has demonstrated its ability to do so safely and effectively.

“However, the critical challenge now being faced by the business events industry is uncertainty in relation to border management, conflicting guidelines for event approvals across the states and the financial implication to businesses with the impending conclusion of JobKeeper.”

The statement said that while there is a genuine appetite to conduct events, the impost of border restrictions is impacting the confidence of event organisers and participants to make commitments. BECA said that as a result, the industry is now seeing events cancelled for the first half of 2021.

The statement continued: “Event organisers managing the financial risk of events are reliant on national participation. For participants, the perceived risk to fly interstate to attend a conference, exhibition or meeting is too high if there is a potential threat of border closures or enforced quarantine, which will affect them professionally, personally and financially.

“The annual Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME), set to take place in Melbourne in March, had a significant role to support recovery as a place where business events buyers and sellers come together to do business over the short to medium term, but it too has had to cancel this week as a consequence of internal border uncertainty.

“The business events industry will not recover if it is limited to conducting state-based events as a result of this uncertainty. We need to be able to leverage off the size and scope of national event participation and the contribution it makes to the visitor economy. With the current limitations on international inbound business, our industry is even more reliant on this national market to recover in 2021.

“BECA is calling on our state and federal leaders to create confidence in business once again and commit to an evidence-based approach to managing internal borders. A nationally consistent approach to the management of hot spots that may arise is essential to avoid the haphazard and unnecessary shutdown of borders. This approach is critical to enable survival and then recovery of the business events industry.

“Many businesses in our industry are now looking at 12-18 months of little or no revenue and face the ongoing challenge of survival, sustaining their organisation and retaining their employees without an income stream until events are reinstated to a more robust level.

“The introduction of JobKeeper enabled many companies to survive throughout 2020. The business conditions that saw the scheme being introduced have not altered for our sector, and in some cases, they have worsened for 2021. With the limitations and restrictions surrounding our industry, most organisations continue to experience loss of revenue more aligned to 70-100 per cent rather than the 30 per cent criteria, yet JobKeeper will conclude industry wide in March 2021.

“The business events industry challenges extend well beyond March 2021 as we face at least three to six months of lag time in the planning, marketing and delivery of events before revenue starts to flow through the supply chain. Ongoing targeted support is needed as an urgent priority to ensure we can sustain our industry and retain our event professionals into the future.”

Dr Vanessa Findlay, chair of BECA commented: “We are not in the position of recovery we envisaged for early 2021 and continue to face extraordinary challenges to ensure the survival of the business events sector.

“With the impending conclusion of the JobKeeper scheme, the industry is deeply concerned that the conditions that led to JobKeeper have not improved for the business events industry. Businesses cannot remain viable with revenue losses that are averaging more than 70 per cent, and this has been ongoing for over 12 months now. We cannot see a path to recovery for the industry if it does not include some form of ongoing targeted Government support.

“BECA continues its work with the federal government to formulate options for ongoing support programs and extends its calls to our state leaders to consider state-based recovery grants. We have business in the pipeline for 2021 and beyond and need to ensure we can sustain the infrastructure and professional expertise through this critical period.”