March 12, 2021

By Joyce DiMascio

The Morrison government’s much-awaited targeted support package for industries most affected by Covid-19 policies has done little for the events industry.

While parts of the country may see a boost to leisure tourism from the aviation industry package, business events have received no new targeted funding or support.

All that has been identified in yesterday’s announcement is an “extension” of the Business Events Grants program administered through Austrade.

There is universal disappointment as the business events operators face the harsh reality that without JobKeeper from March 28, 2021, there will be massive job cuts and businesses will close.

Chair of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), Dr Vanessa Findlay, said the measures announced: “Are not enough for the business events industry to sustain itself while the operating environment is as unsettled as it is.”

Dr Findlay told micenet that BECA will continue to work with the government to get more support, confirming that there was no new money beyond the $50 million announced last year.

Federal minister for trade, tourism and investment, Dan Tehan, is expected to make a further statement today about what the changes to the Business Events Grants program mean, Dr Findlay said.

Dr Findlay said the measures were a step in the right direction but not nearly enough to assist the sector which works in an environment of long-lead times for planning, booking, holding and paying for events.

Simon Thewlis, who has led Save Victorian Events, the targeted advocacy campaign in Victoria, said there has still been no real targeted support for the event industry from the federal or the Victorian governments.

“Our industry has been completely abandoned,” he said yesterday in a press release.

“Today’s announcement, with no support, is a devastating blow to Victoria’s event industry and to the event industry right across Australia.”

The Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) said the tourism package will fail to stem major tourism job and business losses and closures now occurring amongst many small, family run and larger tourism businesses.

ATIC executive director, Simon Westaway, expressed deep disappointment that direct, targeted, and short-term assistance for tourism enterprises had no part in the multi-pronged package.

“We are on the cusp of a national vaccine rollout bringing future confidence to domestic travel. Yet the package doesn’t address at-risk tourism jobs in our cities and regions,” Mr Westaway said.

John Hart, executive chairman at the Australian Chamber – Tourism, said: “We are grateful for the package for the 13 regions and for airlines, however, we need more support for our tourism, accommodation and hospitality operators in our CBDs, our road and sea transport operators and our distribution supply chain.”

He said the said plight of tourism, accommodation and hospitality businesses in the CBDs had not been addressed.

“CBD operators are really hurting and need support,” he said.

Tourism and Transport Forum Australia (TFF Australia) chief executive Margy Osmond said at first blush the $1.2 billion in support was direct and consumer-focused and would help to restore travel confidence in the wake of fluctuating state border closures, but elements of the package, like no wider support beyond more loans and debt, was not what industry needed.

“This airline package is a good start, but it will not be enough and TTF Australia will now work through the detail with all its members, the wider sector and the government in the coming days,” she said.

So where to next?

Unfortunately, if recent surveys by Save Victorian Events and Save NSW Events are accurate, come March 28, 2021, we will be farewelling many colleagues in businesses that can no longer hang on.

That means 40 per cent of Victorian event industry companies will likely need to close and a further 43 per cent will need to shed their staff and 69 per cent of the highly skilled freelancers and contractors will need to leave the industry. In NSW, the Save NSW Events survey predicted a similar catastrophe.

One year after that dark day, March 13, 2020, when the prime minister announced that gatherings of 500 or more could no longer be held – we are now facing the most brutal reality that for many in our industry, the worst possible outcome of Covid-19 may have arrived.