By David Hall

Industry veteran David Hall says pragmatism, priorities and patience will be needed as the business event sector awakens from COVID-19.

We must all accept that the current COVID-19 pandemic is without precedence in terms of the negative impact on the global economy and society as a whole. As a consequence, this has made many, if not most people nervous, particularly when it comes to making future travel commitments, especially in the short term.

The business events sector is particularly vulnerable, but it does have one positive element and that is the lead time between when events are secured by a destination and when the event is actually staged can be quite lengthy. As we know, for international BE events this can be from one year up to five or six years.

Having said that, let us put it into commercial perspective which is extremely relevant in today’s business climate. Yes, international events are important, but for Australia with only 12 to 15 per cent of all its BE events being of international origin it is imperative we in the short-term focus on the greater volume intra-state, inter-state and national market segments. This is not only for the association market, but the corporate market as well who will need to meet more frequently to decide on their recovery/return to normal programs and policies.

Unfortunately, until there is greater ‘freedom’ of domestic inter-state travel our hands are tied in chasing short-term business, but with easing of restrictions the opportunities for city and intra-state meetings and events are well worth considering. I am sure venues, hotels, and suppliers are more than ready to meet such requests.

The two major constraints we need to see eliminated in order to ‘take the brakes off’ are eased state border restrictions and a return of domestic air services.

Personally, my marketing and sales priorities would be:

  1. Maintain contact with all booked business irrespective of source and in particular those scheduled to meet in 2020 and 2021.
  2. Where and if necessary, rearrange dates of future booked business to assure clients of the destination’s facilities commitment.
  3. Focus on short lead time events
  4. Continue to research and pursue new events which would not be hosted for 18 months and out to four or five years.
  5. Carefully monitor the potential ‘travel corridors/bubbles’ opportunities and sources of business such as New Zealand and even further down the track some SE Asian destinations.

The reality of the situation is that many people will for some time be very nervous about travelling –  especially overseas – so let’s take this opportunity to grow our domestic BE markets and at the same time restore confidence in a destination’s capability of service in a safe and healthy environment.

As I have been advising destinations worldwide for many years, it is not the number of BE events hosted each year, but the total number of delegates hosted in that same period of time.

The impact of this pandemic is having far great impact on the BE industry than previous negative health, social, and economic episodes such as the GFC and SARS.

All we can do is to stay safe, be positive and take a sensible pragmatic approach in marketing and sales activities.

About David Hall

David Hall is an Australian – born in England – and has been involved in the convention, incentive travel and exhibition industry for 40 plus years. Following 10 years in the British Merchant Navy as a Marine Radio Officer he then worked in corporate public relation positions in London and Montreal before taking up residence for 14 years in Dunedin, then Timaru and subsequently Australia in 1980. During his time in New Zealand he also was engaged as Executive Director of the Southern Canterbury Regional Development Council.

Since the late 1960s David has been the CEO of various convention bureaux in New Zealand, Australia, Asia and Europe. He was CEO of the Adelaide Convention Bureau for 12 years (1980 –1992) and then CEO of the Gold Coast Convention and Tourism Bureau. Following a one-year contract at the Bali International Convention Centre Bali and the then Sheraton Hotel advising on the restructuring of the facilities sales and marketing requirements, he was invited to consult on the establishment of the Jakarta Convention Bureau.

With over 40 years of tourism and hospitality industry experience but specialising in the business events sector, David has been a board member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaux (IACVB –now DMIA), the Asian Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaux (AACVB) and was the President of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) for five years. David was the author of the governmental submission on construction of the Adelaide Convention Centre and was the consultant on the start-up of convention bureaux in Jakarta, Istanbul, Cape Town, Sarawak, Penang, and recently Johor.