November 3, 2021 | By Julia Swanson, Chief Executive of Melbourne Convention Bureau

As Melbourne emerges from its COVID-19 induced hiatus, the easing of restrictions signals the long-awaited return of business events to the city in the coming months. It’s been a gruelling 20 months with rolling lockdowns, but the optimism right now is palpable.

People are planning, there is movement, and everyone is looking forward to a new beginning.

While it’s not quite like flipping a switch, things are moving at pace in our vaccinated economy. This week we hit 80 percent vaccination coverage and travel right across Victoria has restarted.

New life is brimming in the city, with Moulin Rouge preparing to open, Harry Potter restarting, and various activations popping up across Melbourne.

We are a stone’s throw from our 90 per cent double dose target, expected around 24 November when caps or density quotients will be removed for all settings. There will be no restrictions for indoor and outdoor events provided they follow COVIDSafe guidelines including vaccination requirements.

Health and safety remains paramount and with mandatory vaccinations for attendance at events, a level of comfort for venues, event organisers and delegates is ensured.

One thing that comes from earning the title of the world’s longest city in lockdown, is we know about rules. As a city, we are well versed in COVIDSafe settings, and it puts us in good stead to stage events with confidence.

Every venue will have its own COVIDSafe plan which provides clarity to planners. The guidelines are clear, and it will be easy to do business.

There is pent-up demand for in-person events, with companies eager to bring people back together after one and half years behind screens and we are very much looking forward to welcoming the national and international business events confirmed for Melbourne in 2022.

This number will grow with business confidence on the up and a healthy boost from the Victorian National Business Events Program attracting national events to bolster the calendar for 2022 and beyond.

In this calendar year to date, Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) has secured 47 business events for Melbourne which are expected to attract almost 37,000 delegates and inject $168 million in direct revenue to the Victorian business events supply chain and provide long-term certainty for Victoria’s visitor economy in the coming years.

MCB has undergone a digital transformation which has been integral to this – including virtual site inspections, livestreaming and digital bid platforms. This has supported a high conversion rate – we’ve won over 80 percent of everything we bid for, which is a 20 percent increase on previous years.

We are currently managing $450 million worth of international bids expected to fill over 210,000 room nights, where Melbourne is in consideration for events from 2022 to 2029. It’s a strong pipeline.

Whilst there’s some way to go after the sustained impacts of COVID, international client sentiment is positive.

The reopening announcement has rebounded interest in booking events and news of Australian borders opening for vaccinated returning citizens and their families starting this week, quarantine-free, has certainly fuelled enquiry.

However, as much of the world awaits firm details on Australia’s borders reopening to international delegates, it means 2022 may still have some movement, keeping MCB’s dedicated convention servicing team, who provide bespoke end-to-end event delivery support, on their toes.

Our main focus is supporting our clients with rebooking postponed events, providing advice and marketing support for confirmed events and overall helping our clients get back to business.  We’re supporting event planners with practical information and inspiring them with new event venues and ideas.

We are seeing some clients move to a hub and spoke model as well as including a hybrid component to complement their in-person meetings in Melbourne until the full confirmation of Australia’s international border reopening is in place.

Melbourne’s world-class innovative business events supply chain is well set up for this. The role of technology has grown exponentially, and this is here to stay.

The next few months will be a transition period as the events sector builds back momentum and finds a new operating rhythm as it gears up for a big 2022.

We are excited for the return of signature events in Melbourne including the Australian Open and the Grand Prix in early 2022 and the Asia Pacific Incentive Meetings Event (AIME) in March.

AIME 2022 will be one of the first trade shows to be held in Melbourne since reopening and will be a significant recovery platform for the business events industry in Victoria – it’s our opportunity to show the world that Melbourne is back.

We’ll see international business events by mid-2022, including one of my personal favourites, the World Baristas Championship and World Brewers Cup in July. Interest out of Asia for small and medium groups is increasing and we expect this market to return quickly once air access is established.

Importantly, the city-wide conventions of Rotary 2023 and Lions 2024 are still moving forward with their planning – we appreciate the support of our MCB partners for these mega events.

The outlook is bright. There is a raft of new hotel openings with five set to welcome guests before the end of the year including the new five-star Hyatt Centric.  The LUME at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre opened this week and offers a range of exclusive corporate event packages including thoughtfully curated menus, sound and tech support to create an unforgettable multi-sensory event experience.

The spiritual home of Australia’s sporting and entertainment capital also has a brand-new events and conference venue, CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park. Spanning 4,500m2 across three levels and encompassed by open green spaces, the innovative venue has the capabilities to host everything from large-scale conferences, major awards nights and gala celebrations including five-star dining experiences.

Melbourne is open and we look forward to hosting your event as you rediscover our marvellous city.