September 8, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier | Image: ICC Sydney’ exhibition centre | Image: Guy Wilkinson

Sydney’s convention centre ICC Sydney is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic contribution from events held at the venue a year earlier than forecast, according to its latest financial year review issued this morning.

Results from the 2021/2022 financial year show the centre welcomed 470,000 physical visitors during the year, more than double that of the 2020/2021 financial year, even though Sydney spent more than three months of the latest financial year in a hard lockdown, versus just six days at the end of the 2020/2021 financial year.

A huge bounce back

The statistics demonstrate the incredible bounce back of live events, with most of the in-person event attendees coming in the final four months of the year.

Even after the lockdown and other restrictions significantly eased, starting in October 2021, the review shows ICC Sydney considered January 2022 a lockdown in everything except government health order, due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 at the end of 2021.

ICC Sydney’s CEO Geoff Donaghy said the venue team’s efforts throughout the entire year were rewarded in its final four months.

“Our ability to stay open, keep our core team engaged with clients and stakeholders while fostering a culture that enables our people to deliver new solutions to fluid challenges has delivered this outstanding result,” he said.

Donaghy said once restrictions eased, events returned to the centre, with international events in particular coming back faster than expected.

“Pent up demand meant domestic business levels returned at pace and in volume. Add to this the return of international events and we are now forecasting a return to FY 2019 figures in FY 2025 – a year earlier than previously projected,” he said.

The year by numbers

Overall, ICC Sydney hosted 300 events during the year, 87 per cent or 261 of which were held as in-person or hybrid events. Just 39 events were fully virtual. A total of over 114,000 virtual delegates tuned in to events held at or delivered by ICC Sydney in the last financial year. Altogether the venue’s activity generated $190 million in visitor expenditure, up from $80 million in the 2020/2021 financial year, which was generated by around 200,000 in-person event attendees.

Events at ICC Sydney generated 300,000 overnight stays in 2021/2022 and both client and delegate satisfaction was high – at 99 per cent for both. In addition, the venue’s employee engagement score was 83 per cent.

Record breaking events

The pent-up demand referenced by Donaghy saw a number of record breaking events at the venue once business restarted, with the INDO PACIFIC 2022 International Maritime Exposition held in May having the largest contingent of exhibitors in the event’s two-decade history. The exhibition floor was 11 per cent larger than the last event in 2019, hosting 736 exhibitors from 23 countries and welcoming 25,000 attendees. Tourism Australia’s Australian Tourism Exchange was also its highest selling event in the series. Meanwhile, one of the first international business events to return to the centre, the International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering also in May, brought together 1,360 delegates in person, half of which were international, travelling from 76 countries.

While the 2021/2022 results show the beginning of a steep climb out of the pandemic lows of the 2020/2021 financial year, there remains significant ascent ahead to return to pre-pandemic levels of business, which ICC Sydney is predicting will approach in three years’ time. The year after, the centre is expecting to deliver a $1 billion economic impact for the first time.

However, as the pandemic continues, Donaghy warns that the positive forecasts are dependent on both operating conditions remaining consistent and continued investment in marketing Sydney as an international business events destination, an effort driven by BESydney and Tourism Australia.