May 4, 2021 | By Bronwen Largier

In part two of an in-depth interview, the head of Business Events Australia (BEA) discusses continuing international interest in Australia as an event destination, the success of the Business Events Bid Fund Program, the likely impact of the New Zealand travel bubble and sheds light on how the Business Events Grants Program is really tracking.

Missed part one of Penny Lion’s interview yesterday? Catch up here.

Converting international interest

Despite Australia’s international border remaining shut, Lion says international interest in Australia is there.

“We’re hearing via the Bid Fund Program, we’re hearing from industry, we’re hearing from our colleagues in market that there’s really good interest in the pipeline and we’re seeing those actual quotes come through.

“In the longer term, there is absolute appetite there and we want to try and get that converted as quickly as we can do.”

Tourism Australia’s Business Events Bid Fund Program, which was recently extended by 12 months until the end of the 2021/2022 financial year, has certainly been helping with that conversion.

Since the fund came into operation just shy of three years ago, the program has attracted a billion dollars of event enquiries and 40 events have been won with BFP support, contributing an estimated $409 million to Australia’s economy. Those figures do not include events that haven’t gone ahead due to the pandemic.

Recent research undertaken by Deloitte to understand the additionality of the Bid Fund – that is to say, looking beyond the direct economic impact of the program and understanding what can be solely attributed to the Bid Fund’s existence – also highlight how valuable it has been for the industry and for Australia.

Seventy-five percent of those 40 events won would have been lost to other countries without the Bid Fund and the program is solely responsible for bringing 138,000 international delegates to Australia.

With a return of $7.70 for every dollar invested in the Bid Fund, the initiative is also performing almost three times better than other government programs where the average ROI is $2.80 for each dollar invested.

SportAccord, held on the Gold Coast in 2019, was won with support from Tourism Australia’s Bid Fund Program

The one voice approach

When global travel does resume, Lion believes it’ll be fiercely competitive.

“It’ll be so interesting. Because we won’t be the first one to reopen our borders – what might that mean for us? Is Australia’s handling of the pandemic, which has been relatively successful, going to last us through to see the actual numbers and will it help drive visitation?”

She also suspects that there will be “a few destinations that will have money to put down” to tempt international events to their destinations through subvention. She says agility will be important to adapt to circumstances as they evolve and a “one voice” Australia-first philosophy will strengthen our ability to compete internationally.

“One voice is very much a Tourism Australia term but it came about because Australia’s a really hard destination to sell,” she says.

“Our geographic location means that it’s complicated, in that, most of the time, Australia’s a multi-destination solution.

“I always think about it from a customer perspective – they’d much rather see Australia altogether than see different states and territories, or different products and experiences. By us providing platforms, industry can be part of that and it becomes this very strong message and it makes it easier for the planners to understand what’s possible for a program.

“We think that when the borders open and we can return to our normal business development, that one voice approach will be really important because it’s going to be so saturated with competition,” says Lion.

The New Zealand travel bubble

Despite New Zealand being one of Australia’s strongest performing international markets for business events, Lion cautions that the recent opening of unrestricted travel between Australia and New Zealand is unlikely to bring much business to Australia in the short-term.

“The Kiwis have been operating in a very safe environment in New Zealand and so they’ve been running events and they’ve booked a lot of their activity in their own backyard.

“So short-term, no, I don’t think it’ll be a tremendous opportunity; longer-term, yes, and we’ve always had their support. They’ve been terrific – [they’ve] always been our number one for business events visitation in regards to numbers and they’ll continue to do that.

She says their business events approach is similar to planners here, they know Australia’s offering extremely well and that BEA’s marketing to New Zealand stakeholders has remained strong throughout the pandemic. 

As part of its marketing push in New Zealand, Business Events Australia has released several tailored editions of its inspiration magazine Australia Next to event planners in market during the pandemic.

The Business Events Grants Program

Lion is one of three on the industry advisory panel for the Business Events Grants Program which provides advice to Austrade, which is managing the program, on implementation of the initiative and the schedule of approved events, of which there are now over 350.

When I put to her the widely circulated figure of only $8 million of the $50 million of funds being earmarked for distribution, she says it isn’t the full story.

“That information isn’t correct …there’ll be a lot of data coming out about what’s been committed, what’s been dispensed, how many events are being positively impacted across what industries, across the country,” she says, adding more information should be shared with industry soon.

“All three of us [on the panel] were pleasantly surprised with the stats that Austrade shared with us.

“The commitment is there – they can spend all of that money times two.

“But it’s like our Bid Fund Program – I think there’s a very distinct difference that people are talking about, which is committed funds versus actually dispensed funds.

“The commitment and the ask is more than $90m – I think the appetite is there, that’s all been qualified.”

And she says the industry needs to keep looking forward.

“It’s more important potentially for industry to think about what’s next and I know BECA is doing that. What’s a longer-term solution for industry to consider, what do they need and they’re the conversations that I know BECA is having with the Minister.”