By Graeme Kemlo

“Focusing on what we can do, rather than what we can’t.”

Melbourne was still winning business events bids, and three of its largest upcoming events – World Rotary convention, World Lions convention and  World Opthalmology convention, expected to attract 10,000 to 15,000 attendees – were planning to go ahead in 2022 and 2024. 

These were the words of Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO, Julia Swanson, who said the sector had been hit hard “and is certainly very keen to restart.”

Julia Swanson, who has been at MCB for 10 years and CEO for 18 months, said that despite the pandemic, “We are focusing on what we can do rather than what we can’t do and many areas of our business are still operating as normal.”

She said all staff were still in place but were working from home and communicating digitally.

“We are very much focused on the future and evolving our products and services and looking forward to the long term delivery of the sector.

“Business events was one of the first sectors to feel the full effects of the travel restrictions and mass gathering bans. So largely, all the events in 2020 have either postponed or cancelled and it’s a challenging time across our whole supply chain – there’s a whole raft of businesses that sit behind us. It has certainly been a challenging time but I think the industry is working very well together to support the clients that have had confirmed events for Melbourne.”

She said research showed that for both domestic and international events, there was a strong appetite for the sector to return. “Face-to-face events are still very much important to many sectors and many individuals. Obviously there’s been an acceleration in hybrid meetings and I think they will stay and they will complement the face to face component… that’s certainly been a trend we have seen.”

The bureau typically bids for international events four to nine years in advance, “so in many areas we are bidding for events beyond Coronavirus and we have a very strong long-term pipeline for the city of more than half a billion dollars worth of business events. We’re very optimistic. We’re still winning some events; decision-making is a little slower but there are certainly plenty of clients that are planning for their long-term future,” Ms Swanson said, adding: “The events industry is very keen to restart but it is also important that we do it in a very safe and sustainable way.”