March 7, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

The newly appointed independent chair of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) Leo Jago says business events underpin the recovery of the economy, yet this is not understood by governments.

He spoke with micenet about the priorities for BECA and the challenges it faces as an organisation with limited resources and run by volunteers.

He says the bundling of business events within the tourism portfolio contributes to the lack of understanding of the sector’s broader contribution to the economy.

He says that as the nation aspires to become more productive and more innovative, the business events industry fosters that. And this is still not recognised.

“Business events underpin the recovery of other sectors of the economy,” says Jago.

Jago understands the sector well and has been responsible for producing several major studies on business events. As an academic who has had close ties with industry, about 15 years ago he was engaged by Tourism Australia as well as BECA to quantify the impact of the sector.

Now back in Australia after working overseas at the University of Surrey for six years, he’s agreed to pick up the baton again for business events.

Jago is not a political lobbyist – his strength is in his knowledge of the sector and research on it. As a former head of Tourism Research Australia, his experience of how government agencies work is considered an asset by BECA members.

As BECA’s Chair and front man for the industry, Jago’s first target is the Office of the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. He’s hoping to get some cut-through especially as the Minister’s responsibilities combine both tourism and trade.

“I’m keen to see that we engage with the trade side as well as tourism. Business events, especially exhibitions are often about promoting trade,” he says.

Despite the many examples of business events supporting industry – they “just don’t resonate” with the government and that’s the real concern he says.

“Governments seem to look for snapshots and business events don’t lend themselves to quick snapshots – they are more complex.”

Jago says he feel more collaboration with the university sector is also important.

“One of the fears I have is that over COVID, the university sector has been knocked for six.

“Universities are in a really poor state because they lost their international students and they’d become so dependent on them.”

He says as a result colleagues in the university sector were now unable to attend events and research conferences.

“I’m fearful for what that mean in the longer term for scientific research and scientific conferences. That’s going to become a real problem.”

He says it’s going to be important to engage with ministers beyond the tourism minister in order to get more recognition for the business events industry.

“Many in the industry have tried to do this – it’s a tough gig.”

He agrees that the frugally resourced BECA will be constrained.

“At the moment it [BECA] relies very heavily on the voluntary contribution of its members.

“But longer term, we’ve got to find a way of funding it. Their ability to provide these voluntary contributions longer term is questionable, and that threatens the sustainability of the whole sector.

He praises the level of commitment by the volunteer board members to all the organisations that are part of BECA.

“The number of people that make contributions to boards and go so far beyond their day job in the industry is incredible. I think the sector does better than most in that sense, but it’s not sustainable.”

He says it is time for the organisations in the business events sector to be prepared to do things differently.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.