March 19 2021

By Bronwen Largier

With this week marking where AIME should have been in our 2021 calendars, micenet caught up with Matt Pearce, Director of the event’s organiser, Talk2 Media and Events, for insight into what led to the decision to cancel the event less than two months out, challenges for delivering events in 2021 and what’s ahead for Australia’s flagship – and hopefully international – MICE trade event in 2022.

“In early December, we were feeling really good about AIME and what we would be able to achieve for business events,” says Mr Pearce.

“We had a run of exhibitor bookings and there was a sense, in Australia at least, that the worst of the pandemic was behind us.

“That sentiment started to deteriorate later in December and by early January it became clear that the fear wasn’t COVID-19, it was border closures.

“The turning point for me was when we were having conversations with would-be buyers who were expressing reluctance to commit to a show in March because of potential border issues.

“AIME is for buyers and sellers to come together – that was becoming an issue.”

The nuances behind the decision to cancel

Mr Pearce says the risks for the AIME and its long-term viability are about more than whether government restrictions and the status of state borders make it logistically possible for the event’s doors to open and attendees to get there on event day.

“In the early stages of Covid-19, we spent a lot of time working out how we could run events. We can manage exhibitors and visitors, we can track and trace through strong registration procedures, we could meet health requirements and so forth.

“We could tick all the technical aspects of a show, but not the emotional and practical ones.

“By the time March 15 came along this year, technically we would have been able to run the show – all borders were open and I am sure we could have run a great event.

“However, emotionally and practically, our visitors and exhibitors needed to commit months out – book hotels, book meetings, incur costs.

“Think back to January and there was no way that we could expect people to commit, so I stand by our decision,” says Mr Pearce.

“I firmly believe that we would have run the risk of fatally wounding AIME had we run the show.

“There is an implicit promise or level of trust that an event makes to its stakeholders which is, ‘Invest in our event and you will have benefit from the investment’.

“Whether it is a hosted buyer investing their time looking for new destinations, venues or suppliers, or whether it is an exhibitor looking for new customers, without both there you will let some – or potentially all – [of] your stakeholders down.

“Break that trust or promise and what do you stand for?”

Going ahead with consumer shows

Mr Pearce says trust is equally important for Talk2 Media and Events’ consumer shows going ahead this year.

“Whether it is Good Food & Wine, our largest consumer brand or AIME, if we say we can run the event successfully, then the trust the brands have built over time means that you have to ensure you can deliver.

He says the Good Food & Wine Show, which usually has up to 35,000 attendees over three days is an example of their approach to the rest of their events this year, taking into account learnings from AIME.

“[The numbers are] a challenge and so for this year, we already know that to be safe we need more space and wider aisles, we need to stagger attendance so that everyone feels safe.

“For exhibitors, we are focussed on having the right people there. It’s unlikely that we will have 35,000 visitors, but 30,000 good visitors will work.

“Our key learning is to be true to our event value propositions. They become a forceful guiding principle and influence our decision making.

Mr Pearce also says there is little difference between business or public exhibitions.

“The risks don’t differ between events in my view, they just may be more complex to overcome. We are still wanting to put buyers and sellers together for mutual benefit, whether it is a trade or consumer event.”

The challenges for events in 2021

According to Mr Pearce, the biggest challenge for events in 2021 is dealing with different pandemic responses of each of Australia’s states and territories.

“They all appear to have a different view of what you can do and how you can do it. Just like border closures, the lack of a national approach is our biggest challenge.”

Despite this, Talk2 Media are positive for their event line-up for 2021.

“We are feeling good about our events for this year. They are all viable and that viability is only really challenged by decisions from state governments,” says Mr Pearce.

Looking ahead to AIME in 2022

Mr Pearce expects that the pandemic will still exert its influence on decisions made for AIME next year.

“The most obvious one is whether we will have international participants. I am hopeful that we will,” he says, citing potential reciprocal travel bubbles with Singapore and New Zealand as early good signs.

“With vaccinations rolling out, I think we will have a terrific opportunity to have people fly internationally for AIME 2022.

“The hardest thing is that there will be no ‘on’ button, just an increasing sentiment that international travel is safe. Where we will be on that sentiment scale will influence our thinking all year.

“We know how important AIME will be to rebuilding our industry. How we can maximise the positive impact of the national – and potentially international industry – coming together at AIME is also heavily influencing our plans.”

AIME 2022 is scheduled to take place at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from March 21-23 in 2022.