February 24, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) Chief Executive Peter King says the events industry is on the way back, but the biggest challenge is staffing and the skills shortage.

He spoke with micenet about the positivity returning to the market and some of the constraints to be addressed as events restart.

As a long-time leader of MCEC and a major contributor to the country’s peak bodies, King’s perspective continues to be both strategic and pragmatic – a hallmark of his leadership style.

But King says the biggest issue right now for the centre and the wider industry is its labour force.

“The biggest challenge is certainly staffing and skills right across the industry,” he says.

“As the number of events are not consistent, we can’t provide consistent employment right now – this means our casuals go away to work elsewhere.

“We’ve lost a lot of casuals especially international students. They are an important part of our workforce.

“They bring a strong work ethic, cultural diversity and language skills – they add a real flavour to Melbourne and the industry.”

He said event delivery processes and protocols were so much more complex now and clients are leaning on the venue more. The additional safety requirements mean the way things are done is all different. That takes skills and experience.

“For example, Professional Conference Organisers have downsized and now require additional services from the centre to support their events,” he said.

King said there were encouraging signs that international students are returning to Melbourne and that is very positive.

Over the last two years, MCEC, like other major venues around the country, became available to non-traditional clients. This helped to keep the centre open.

MCEC provided vital services to Health Victoria and also to the film and entertainment industry. It attracted major clients like The LUME Melbourne and its digital art gallery, which has made the MCEC its home for several years. Its kitchens have also been made available to the likes of Flinders & Co for meal preparation.

While Victoria’s Department of Health and its vaccination hub have moved out, other clients have been retained.

King says this is not causing any significant difficulties in accommodating its traditional business events clients.

“The calendar is being managed pretty well – event organisers are working with us. Everyone is working well and in partnership with good communications around future planning.”

King is very aware of “not cannibalising” events in the future.

He says the opportunities for hosting large film shoots are more limited now as traditional clients return with their events.

“Film clients require large spaces for long periods of time.”

But there is plenty of opportunity in the entertainment sector, he says.

The LUME Melbourne is an example of that. But there are also opportunities with Village Roadshow and TEG Live, he says.

“It all helps fill the gaps – so we are keeping those relationships alive. There is a bit of serendipity as to whether we can help them or not.”

Read part two of this story.