September 21, 2021 | By Graeme Kemlo

A marketing campaign run between lockdowns proved to Business Events Geelong that, less than an hour from Melbourne, it was in demand for corporate and small group meetings of 20 to 30. And then it went back into lockdown this week.

Mark Day, Manager of Business Events for the region and Chair of Business Events Victoria said it was an issue facing many regions which still feel the weight of Melbourne’s tough lockdown restrictions despite the government announcing its roadmap on the weekend.

And now Geelong faces competition for association business, not only from other regions, but capital cities which are bidding for smaller association meetings since their international conference business has been thwarted by Australia’s international border closure.

He said many regions had effectively written off the rest of 2021 and were focused on next year. Geelong draws about 80 per cent of its meetings and events from Melbourne and this has basically dried up. However Geelong has an important education sector event in early 2022 that will be vital for its business event sector.

Overall tourism revenue for Greater Geelong and Bellarine region, which has a 270,000 population spread from Werribee to the Surf Coast has dropped from the usual $1.1 billion pre-COVID to about $750 million.

Even though Geelong has been spared some of the lockdowns of Melbourne, he said hotels are running on skeleton staff only, restaurants have adjusted to take-away or remained closed since a maximum of 10 customers is not viable.

However Day remains positive of a return to business events in 2022 with new accommodation and services coming.

Holiday Inn Werribee has just opened with 150 rooms and 491m2 of versatile meeting spaces, the largest of which is a ballroom for 240.

Construction work is also underway on Holiday Inn and Suites Geelong, which is scheduled to open next year with 180 rooms, including 23 suites, a range of meeting spaces and an event centre.

And a former Salvation Army premises in the city’s Eastern Beach precinct is under new ownership and being redeveloped into Geelong Conference Centre with 46 accommodation rooms plus meeting spaces.

Meanwhile he said “work behind the scenes is progressing” on development of Geelong Convention and Exhibition Centre with a 1,000 seat plenary space after $355 million in joint funding was agreed between the Federal and State Governments and the city of Greater Geelong.  Its preferred site is near Deakin University’s waterfront campus in the city.

He said other positive developments for the city included the fast ferry service from Melbourne’s Docklands to Geelong and next year’s relocation of the Spirit of Tasmania ferry service from Melbourne’s Station Pier to a dedicated new passenger and freight terminal being built on Corio Bay in Geelong.