By Graeme Kemlo

Victoria’s regions would usually hold 200 business events a year, but this year they have held only three or four, and still being in lockdown means they have lost events now being held in other states.

That’s according to Chris Porter, executive officer of Business Events Victoria (BEV). He says the number of leisure visitors going to other Victorian regions has increased with COVID-19 restrictions eased for the regions.

“But from a business events perspective the majority of the market that comes into regional Victoria comes out of Melbourne… conferencing is still very much under wraps and not able to happen,” he said.

While regional cities like Mildura and Wodonga have always been well positioned to host meetings involving corporate or government delegates who drove from surrounding states that was also not possible due to border closures.

“What we’re finding is that the Premier [Andrews] is within his right to say businesses should work from home, so until we get some more clarity around businesses being able to meet in certain size groups, I think the business events industry in regional Victoria is pretty much going to be on the ‘go slow’ for a little while to come yet,” Chris said.

Even meetings of the BEV board, which used to be held in the city, have changed to hybrid events.

“Business events are going to look very different into the future I think… there’s a lot of people who have moved directly into hybrid events and that will have an impact on visitation.

“But one of the things people like about conferencing and business events is getting together… that’s what we are starting to hear and see.

“Because businesses haven’t got together all year there’s a real opportunity to attract some of these groups into regional areas, when it is safe to do so.”

“We have been informing our industry that the first thing they need to talk to clients about is what their COVID-safe plans are,” he said, adding: “that almost comes before the RFP now.”

Maintaining connections within and between businesses was critical, he said. BEV has waived membership fees as one way to help members.

He knows of one venue at the Great Ocean Road that has gone into liquidation, “but a lot of others have just gone into hibernation.”

While AIME (March 14-17, 2021) will look quite different next year without the internationals attending Chris said, “it is an opportunity to get the industry back together… almost a bit of a healing… the chance to draw a line in the sand have a bit of a rebirth.”