BY GRAEME KEMLO

Melbourne is set to host seven of the world’s largest and most prestigious conferences over the next two years. Graeme Kemlo reports.

The seven “wonder” events include the 22nd World Diabetes Conference, the International AIDS Conference, the World Congress of Cardiology, and the World Cancer Congress in 2014.
So far this financial year, Melbourne Convention + Visitors Bureau (MCVB) has won 99 business events which will draw almost 31,000 delegates, require in excess of 76,000 room nights, and generate an economic impact of $104.7 million for Melbourne. This result was lower than last year, which gained the fillip of an unusually high delegate and revenue boost from two very large convention wins.
Now into her second year at the helm, and having made some strategic moves on offshore representation, internal marketing and establishment of a dedicated in-house research unit, MCVB CEO, Karen Bolinger, says the bureau is “on track in terms of revenue and delegate days” and working to a five-year strategic plan.
Part of a “more streamlined and vigorous” approach to business development could see MCVB staff deployed to work in the USA and UK within the new representative organisations. And Ms Bolinger says the bureau is looking at moving offices in its important China incentive market from Hong Kong to Shanghai.
A cornerstone is to position the city as Australia’s knowledge, research and innovation capital through its Melbourne IQ campaign. Part of Melbourne IQ is the Club Melbourne Ambassador program, which has attracted 134 Melbournians – world leaders in medicine, science, business and industry – as advocates for their city. Recently 13 of the ambassadors were recognised for their success during 2012 in securing 14 international conferences through 2018, covering a broad range of fields: transport, medicine, science, health and business.
The ambassadors have delivered 65 international events for Melbourne since 2005 – with a forecast economic impact of more than $450 million.
At the heart of Melbourne’s success is its major CBD facility, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), which has just enjoyed its busiest six months in the history of the venue – hosting 1500 events and 250,000 visitors.
High occupancy at the facility since the 5000-seat plenary was opened in 2009, and strong growth predicted over the next three to five years, is both good and bad news for chief executive, Peter King. There are 24 major international conventions coming to Melbourne in 2013.
He said MCEC would commence “…an incredibly busy period, particularly over the next three years, with a strong booking calendar of a diverse range of business – from exhibitions, conventions and meetings to gala dinners, speech nights and concerts”.
His challenge is in the business events market.
“We do need extra exhibition space. Today a lot of meetings have a conference and exhibition… we’re becoming a little bit compromised,” he said.
Mr King says he’s been in discussion with the Victorian State Government to fund an extra 12,500 square metres of exhibition space, something the previous government announced but had not funded when they left office. He said he hoped it would be included in this year’s State Budget discussions, with a possible announcement by May. The project would take two-and-a-half years to build but would not disrupt events as construction would be over an outdoor car park adjacent to the MCEC entrance.
“It will allow us to not only provide the largest but also the most accessible venue in Australia,” he said.
Karen Bolinger has also joined the call for more exhibition space at MCEC saying she recognised it was MCEC’s role to sell exhibitions, but “…if all the exhibition space is sold to a consumer trade show, it is difficult to put in a conference that needs exhibition space”.
Both Mr King and Ms Bolinger were excited at the annoucement of the inaugural Business Events Week in conjunction with AIME 2013, and the prospect of raising awareness among business and industry on just how valuable the sector is to the local and national economy.
“Very few people are aware that as a convention and visitors’ bureau, our sole function is to bid for the right for Melbourne to host business events; from board meetings to corporate and incentive travel, right through to major conferences. In 2013, we hope to change that and educate Australia about this all-important industry which provides so much value across the knowledge sectors, tourism and beyond,” Ms Bolinger said.
It is estimated business events generate extensive economic wealth for the local, state and national economy totalling more than $1.2 billion in Victoria alone.