February 16, 2022 | By Joyce DiMascio | Image: Oneill Photographics

It’s hard not to be impressed with Nicole Walker. Women with immense talent haven’t always had the courage to back themselves. But Walker can only be admired for stepping up to chair the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia while also taking ownership of Arinex, one of the most established conference organising businesses in Australia.

As the new Managing Director she has her hands full. On top of this she has her duties with the EEAA – and she is also a mum of three young children and is committed to fitness and good health.

Walker’s energy and drive are her great strengths.

So too is her sense of opportunity. She knows herself well – and in so doing has been prepared to take on greater career and personal challenges.

Joyce DiMascio spoke with her for a micenet exclusive. Note the interview was conducted prior to the announcement of the return of international travel to Australia for double vaccinated visitors. 

Walker says Arinex has a strong forward calendar of confirmed business and believes once consumer confidence returns conversion will also increase.

“We look forward to welcoming international conferences and inbound incentives back to Australia and New Zealand as soon as possible,” she said.

“Arinex has nine international conferences scheduled for the second half of 2022. Whilst some have already made the decision to go completely online, others are hopeful that a hybrid event will be possible.

She said the delay in the Federal Government’s announcement of a firm date for reopening Australia’s international border had a range of implications for events as well as the economic impact on the country.

Walker believes the pandemic has had varied impacts on the different parts of the business event industry.

“COVID forced clients to shift to technology solutions to provide meeting support, so in many ways it has been positive, accelerating clients into the next generation of conferencing and incorporating more digital options.

“For association conferences, where knowledge sharing is critical, they were able to adapt to a virtual environment quite easily.”

Walker said things have not been as positive for the exhibition industry.

“Unfortunately, exhibitions have had little success converting to virtual and so these have been significantly impacted. Whilst the desire to attend these events is strong, consumer confidence needs to increase before we see pre-pandemic levels at these events.”

She said the incentive market had been at a standstill since March 2020.

“We find ourselves falling behind other countries who are welcoming tourists and international business events with open arms.”

The mixed political agendas between state and federal governments had added complexities for event managers, suppliers, venues, clients and delegates.

“All that aside, we have seen some really beneficial changes to our industry.

“The focus on sustainability has increased and Australia and New Zealand are well placed to demonstrate to the world our sustainability initiatives.”

She said that whilst the distance would always be a challenge for both countries, each country was blessed with stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife and nature, state-of-the-art convention centres, strong bureaux and cities that are advancing sustainability measures and outcomes.

“All these elements ensure we have a depth of quality in our sustainability content that we can capitalise on.”

Walker said the focus on technology integrations and data analytics had resulted in added benefits for all stakeholders in helping to guide understanding of delegate behaviour and overall user experience.

“As a result of this, programs, speakers and timings can be tailored to create more bespoke experiences. This ultimately results in greater delegate satisfaction, higher engagement and revenue generation.”

She said in rebuilding face-to-face events, it was essential to deliver superior health and safety processes. Australia’s strong health care system was also an advantage.

The future of the meetings industry was strongly connected to technology, she said.

“For decades, clients have been very slow to adopt any new innovations however, we have been forced into this technological age and we can harness this.”

She said technology had made business events more accessible and with “newer generations” in the market, it is expected.

Arinex established a DCO (Digital Conference Organising) team in the early stages of the pandemic. This team will continue to grow and adapt to meet the “revolutionary technological integrations” in the business events sector, she said.

Clients, especially in the association space, will look to Arinex for this professional knowledge.

“Whilst our distance from Europe and the US may be a challenge, with the focus on sustainability, the duration of each attendee’s trip may be extended and the resurgence of pre and post touring could materialise.”

Asked to comment on Australia’s international reputation and whether there is still interest in Australia – Walker said that national associations would be even more risk averse.

“They’ll be hesitant to host their international counterparts in Australia unless there is a very strong business case and financial support.”

The sentiment for incentive travel to Australia was strong at both IMEX America and IBTM World held at the end of 2021.

She confirmed that groups were looking to travel to Australia in 2023 and beyond.

“Whilst the number of incentives per company is decreasing the budget and duration is increasing.

“Budgets have, on average, remained strong and corporates are eager to invest in their top performers,” she said.

“Australia is a long-haul destination but with clever marketing focused, “bucket list” opportunities and incredible landscapes, educational knowledge sharing, wildlife abundancy and quality lifestyle based on a strong economy, we will come back better and stronger than ever.

“Through Tourism Australia’s marketing focus we remain relevant and top of mind in the global business events market, maintaining our strong reputation.”

Stay tuned – part two of this story coming tomorrow.