Savvy convention bureaux and centres are securing millions of dollars for their cities and states thanks to lucrative ambassador programs around the country.

On the evening of August 27 this year an intimate dinner will be held at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre in which a select group of 148 well-dressed people will be congratulated and thanked for keeping the Victorian economy moving.
Scientists, medical doctors, engineers, business people, artists, IT researchers and academics – all from Victoria – will be recognised and rewarded with a nice meal and some fine wine for being personally responsible for securing more than $460 million worth of business for the state.
That’s right – $460 million.
Celebrating its eighth anniversary in 2013, the Club Melbourne Ambassador Program and its 148 ambassadors have helped the MCEC and the Melbourne Convention Bureau win 69 international meetings with an estimated value nearing $500 million.
Some, like the 36th International Conference on High Energy Physics, bid for and Chaired by Club Melbourne Ambassador and professor at the University of Melbourne, Geoff Taylor, have already been held.
Others, like the International Congress on Immunology are yet to come, with this event secured with the assistance of Club Melbourne Ambassador Professor Richard Boyd. Being held in 2016, it is expected to attract 5000 leading immunologists from all corners of the globe who will pump millions of dollars into the local economy.
The Club Melbourne Ambassador Program is a collaborative strategy driven by the convention centre with support from the Melbourne Convention Bureau and the State Government of Victoria, with the patron of the program the Governor of Victoria, Alex Chernov.
Certainly one of the main aims of the initiative is to secure revenue for Melbourne, but as general manager of the program, Suzana Bishop, explains, money from meetings is not the only consideration.
“There are a lot of outcomes that come from hosting international meetings. Hosting an international meeting in Melbourne allows Melbourne academics and others to showcase their research and the work they are doing to an international audience,” she explains.
This exposure, she says, helps to profile Melbourne’s expertise in a variety of disciplines on the world stage which can and does lead to new research grants and greater collaboration with international peers.
Chair of the 36th International Conference on High Energy Physics, Professor Geoff Taylor, said following that meeting and the wide exposure it received there was a greater understanding and appreciation by the general public and government of the research and expertise Australia and Melbourne had in the field.
Aside from being Professor of Physics at the University of Melbourne he is a Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at Terascale and a recipient of a seven-year grant for research.
“[The success of the conference] reinforced the government’s decision to fund [our research]. We are now trying to build the program nationally based on the extra exposure we were given,” he explains.
Major medical and scientific business events recently secured by Club Melbourne Ambassadors include the International Congress for Paediatrics in 2013 (5000 delegates), the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine in 2012 (4000 delegates); and the World Diabetes Congress in 2013 (12,000 delegates).

Adelaide nous

Like its Melbourne counterparts, the Adelaide Convention Bureau has been running a hugely successful ambassador program. Manager of business development and conventions at the bureau, Kathryn Pullman, says they presently have 81 ambassadors ranging from the Adelaide Lord Mayor to the Governor of South Australia, executive level government officials, university vice chancellors, university professors, academics and business leaders.
“The program has been running for three years and yielded some excellent results,” she said.

Brisbane big shots

The Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre-driven Convention Advocates program has been running now for three years and at last count has helped secure 26 meetings with an economic value of $43 million.
The BCEC utilises the services of 54 of the city’s leading academics, scientists and business leaders, with the patron of the program the Governor of Queensland, Penelope Wensley.
Advocates were recently thanked for their ongoing efforts at a special dinner at the centre where BCEC general manager, Bob O’Keeffe, stressed the value of the program.
“The benefits of this partnership are broad and far reaching. There are tangible economic impacts but there are many other associated long-term legacies including knowledge wealth and investment and development of key sector industries,” he said.
“Our advocates do a great job for the centre which in turn generates considerable economic benefit for Brisbane.”
Advocates helped to secure seven conferences during the last 12 months with a further 13 bids in progress and awaiting decisions.
Recently confirmed advocate-assisted conferences include:

  • International Scientific Meeting of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 2015 (1200 pax)
  • SPE Unconventional Oil & Gas Conference 2013 (1200 pax)
  • International Conference on Prenatal Diagnosis 2014 (600 pax)
  • Inaugural Global Controversies and Advances on Skin Cancer Conference 2013 (400 pax)
  • International Federation of Placenta Associations 2015 (300 pax)
  • International Conference on Tropical Medicine & Malaria 2016 (2000 pax)
  • General Assembly and Conference of the Asian Pacific Organisation for Cancer Prevention 2016 (500 pax)

Advocate Professor Jeff Dunn, chief executive officer of Cancer Council Queensland received special commendation at the dinner for his bid leadership role in having secured five international conferences.
The centre continues to develop and expand its advocates initiative with advocates contributing to and involved in a number of activities including accompanying members of BCEC’s international team to industry trade shows overseas.

Sydney high scorers

The Business Events Sydney Ambassador Program has been operating since 2009. The program has 78 ambassadors which includes six international members. Ambassadors are leaders in their field and represent a range of disciplines including medicine, science, agriculture, the arts, ICT, commerce, and law.
BE Sydney estimates ambassadors have assisted in securing 63 meetings for Sydney with an economic impact for the NSW economy of close to $400 million.
“These events have seen over 100,000 delegates meet, collaborate and innovate in Sydney,” says BE Sydney CEO, Lyn Lewis-Smith.
“Combine the value of these connections, networking, knowledge-sharing and international relationship-building with the economic impact and you start to understand how business events are truly a vital contributor to both our visitor and knowledge economies.
“The program, and the talented individuals it comprises, has proven to be an invaluable asset for BE Sydney. Since it was officially established in 2009, we’ve grown the program slowly and strategically. We have chosen to keep our program selective, targeted and results focused. We see real value in having close and productive relationships with a smaller ambassador group, which is passionate about Sydney and has connections to the priority markets and industries we are targeting for business events.”
Ms Lewis-Smith said BE Sydney was currently working with the NSW Government to increase the number of ambassadors who fall within the government’s priority industry sectors and who can help maximise Sydney’s global profile.
“When approached as part of an aligned economic development strategy, business events can have a great impact and help to achieve our government objectives. It is this alignment that will ultimately create maximum value for NSW.”

Gold Coast launches program

Recognising the value of ambassador programs around the country the Gold Coast Convention Bureau launched its own initiative in March announcing 10 recruits for the Gold Coast Business Events Ambassador Program, with the Governor of Queensland, Penelope Wensley, as the patron.
“This new program has the potential to deliver significant benefits to the Gold Coast and I urge as many members of the Gold Coast community as possible to give it their strongest support to ensure that this happens, for the benefit not only of the Gold Coast, but of all Queenslanders,” she said at the launch.
Gold Coast Tourism director of business events, Anna Case, says the program’s inaugural ambassadors were identified as a result of their dedicated work with the Gold Coast Convention Bureau in bidding for international events.
“Over the last 18 months the inaugural Gold Coast Business Events Ambassadors have secured 10 international business events for the Gold Coast. These events are estimated to deliver over $9 million to the local economy,” she said.
“The benefits of these events extend beyond direct wealth creation; they foster research and investment and generate valuable local employment. They also provide a unique platform to showcase the Gold Coast’s leadership, expertise and innovation to the world. Furthermore, they provide the stage for global leaders to discuss, debate and share.”

The Tassie way

The Tasmania Convention Bureau has a body that it calls the Business Events Tasmania Catalyst Program. Founded in July 2010, it has journalist Charles Wooley as its patron and 10 high-profile Tasmanians who combined have helped secure 25 events for the state.

The Perth Convention Bureau also has a program, however, according to former marketing and media officer, Antonia Santich, it is quite different to that of other bureau.
“Our ambassadors are used for advocacy and [we therefore] cannot give a clear example of an ambassador who has directly assisted in securing a conference for the state,” she said.

NT strategy

The Northern Territory Convention Bureau’s director of business events, Scott Lovett, says they are looking at launching an ambassador-style program in the third quarter of 2013. m