January 18, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo

While convention bureaux and event owners are clearly keen to resume business events, it is the delegate or their employer who will decide when it is safe to resume face-to-face meetings, says CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB), Andrew Hiebl.

Events postponed from 2021 into 2022 could still be at risk until the confidence of delegates and their employers returns, he said.

“The challenge looking forward into 2022 is to identify when the down period has passed, and while event owners and organisers might want or need to stage their event, it is the attendees or their employers who hold the key in terms of confidence,” Hiebl said.

“And challenging directives from governments might stifle that confidence – for example the Omicron work from home directive – which makes it highly unlikely an employer will send someone to attend an event if there’s any risk.”

The “living with COVID” approach adopted by some state governments who are now dealing with 20,000 to 30,000 infections a day will not encourage people from a state with much lower infection rates to travel interstate for an event, Hiebl said, adding that large corporates or associations were particularly sensitive to such attitudes and this could delay the return of business events.

Hiebl said the decision to effectively cancel the postponed 2021 PCOA conference this month and resume the usual December timeslot was a pragmatic example.

Organisers who staged hybrid events in 2021 due to COVID quickly realised that they needed two teams because it was effectively two events – one for the live audience and another for those online – so twice the resources and extra budget.

“Understandably some are not willing to repeat the process unless it is unavoidable, such as an event with an international component,” says Hiebl.

While domestic intrastate events would return more quickly, he believes international delegates could take much longer with other influences at play, such as the Djokovic factor.

“The fact that our handling of this visa exercise has grabbed global headlines is like the bushfires two years ago…back then the perception overseas was that the whole of Australia was on fire.”

While some people might get the wrong idea he said, “There’s not much you can do to respond as a lot of the Novak issue was around vaccination, but I think our position as a great events destination will be upheld.”