June 30, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

And so, Penny Lion, Executive General Manager of Events at Tourism Australia is passing the baton after leading Business Events Australia for over a decade. It’s been a big brief, delivered with focus, imagination, and innovation by one of our industry’s consummate professionals.

It seems we are losing a lot of talent from our industry as people recast their careers and priorities after 18 months pushing through the uncertainty of a global pandemic.

Lion has done a formidable job and has led strongly through periods of absolute growth and now through the toughest phase, especially for international incentive, association, and corporate business.

I know the complexity of the role, having preceded Lion as the Head of Business Events Australia. It’s a highly competitive global marketplace and competing for a share of the BE market against cashed up destinations, especially in Asia, has always been challenging. And the brief for the business events marketing, distribution and partnership arm of Tourism Australia got a lot harder with the shutdown of international borders.

But Lion has led with strength and stepped up to every challenge that has come the way of her talented team. Loaded with commercial acumen and first-hand international experience at CiEvents, Lion was well equipped for the role and its challenges.

Tourism Australia Managing Director Philippa Harrison

As part of the executive leadership team at Tourism Australia, she was a strong advocate for business events and their importance to Australia’s visitor economy.

Business Events Australia and the trade events program for which she is also responsible are in good shape. This is her legacy as she has worked hard to build internal support including from Managing Director, Phillipa Harrison.

Lion has introduced a range of new programs and initiatives including the Business Events Bid Fund Program and new marketing resources as well as transforming Tourism Australia’s trade events. This includes the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE), which this year was delivered in an ambitious and successful hybrid format.

Lion and Harrison together engineered the new structure for business events.

Harrison says she and Lion had been talking about the future direction of business events withing Tourism Australia for a while.

“Penny decided to leave the business – and she came up with a plan based on her understanding of the job that had to be done in the future.

“And she is staying on to do a full and comprehensive handover till she leaves in October.

Tourism Australia’s Chief Marketing Officer, Susan Coghill, will oversee business events marketing from July 1.

“Her contribution has been fantastic – she has been a great innovator and her input to the executive leadership team and wider Tourism Australia has been enormous.”

The Business Events Australia role has required a heavy focus on industry engagement, and it is an area in which Lion has excelled.

Harrison said that she understood how important it was to continue to involve the industry to realise the goals for business events in the future.

“We understand the importance of having an engaged industry and we will continue to work towards this in the future,” Harrison said.

The new structure will embed business events more firmly within the wider Tourism Australia team. The restructure has the business events marketing team working through the Chief Marketing Officer, Susan Coghill and the trade team working through the commercial area with Robin Mack promoted to also take on responsibility for Business Events Australia.

“It’s a way to get more access to marketing expertise and also to work alongside Robin Mack who will run it day to day – and I will step up to be more involved,” said Harrison.

Deputy Chair of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), and ICC Sydney Chief Executive, Geoff Donaghy said it was sad to hear about Lion’s plans to leave the role.

He said the relationship between Tourism Australia and the industry had never been stronger.

“This will be Penny’s legacy,” he said.

Tourism Australia’s Executive General Manager of Commercial Robin Mack will become head of Business Events Australia

“The recent business events workshop jointly hosted by BECA and Tourism Australia has taken that partnership to a whole new level.

“She has been a wonderful advocate and supporter of the business events industry. We are definitely not at the finish line. It is really passing the baton for the next leg of the race,” Donaghy said.

Lion should also be acknowledged for her special interest in investing in the development of young talent in the industry and more recently, the environment.

Under her leadership, Business Events Australia stepped up its investment in programs to support sustainability and young talent. Lion invested in several new initiatives with the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia focussed on these two priorities and maintained an established partnership with Meetings and Events Australia for mentoring young leaders.

I wish Lion well and thank her for her dedication and service to our industry. She has built a strong, tight team in whose hands the business events programs will remain and flourish.

I congratulate Robin Mack on his appointment and look forward to him being welcomed by the industry.