If you look up Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre’s (BCEC) Alison Gardiner on LinkedIn you’ll find this: ‘Collaboration, Relationship Management, Tactical, Strategic, Business Connector’.
That says a lot about how convention centres operate today. Gardiner is BCEC’s director of sales – conventions, but like many across the convention centre industry wears multiple hats on a daily basis.
“What works for us is taking a venue partnership approach to basically our whole outlook on life,” she says. “BCEC has been a [quasi] convention bureau for a long time now, but the shift happened about 10 years ago, particularly for the international market.
“It became quite clear for us in Queensland how the academic groups that we work with would have to become partners, and change that conversation to one of asking ‘where’s our joint synergy’ and ‘where can we help each other get to where we need to go to?’
“Our job at the Centre is to make [the State Government] money and in doing that to focus on the kind of conferences that are a technology showcase, so that we are all running on the same page.”
BCEC uses its Advocates Program to deepen those connections with both the academic and industry sectors, which has led to creating new meetings and conferences, “because that was again helping put the industry supply chain together”.
“We have seen new projects develop after we have introduced people together so over time some of those gatherings see us as
a connecting force for particular industry sectors,” she says.
BCEC’s stronger emphasis on strategic relationships also includes working with the state government.
“We have very open conversations with our state government about marrying up to the areas that they will be investing in or supporting in the next five years to the kind of conferences that are in that space,” she says.
The final phase of Adelaide Convention Centre’s $397 million redevelopment opened in August, with the new East Building looking to a future that will demand more flexibility in both its layout but also the philosophy at the core of its purpose.
Convention centres of the future need to view themselves as a ‘partner’ to their clients,” says Alec Gilbert, ACC’s long standing chief executive.
“In today’s competitive market the ability to partner with organisers and connect them with local thought leaders, the community and the regions is equally important in delivering a winning and memorable event. The approach is all about enriching the conference experience both within the centre and the city itself to create a lasting legacy.”
Gilbert, who is stepping down at the end of the year, has seen plenty of change in the industry over his long tenure at the helm.
“Convention centres are being increasingly perceived by state governments as a way of promoting their economic development priorities,” he says. “There’s definitely a strong emphasis placed on targeting events whose subject matter concentrates on the priorities of the state, and attracts thought leaders from around the world in these fields.”
As a new venue in the heart of a billion dollar plus redevelopment of Darling Harbour, the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) is keenly aware of its responsibility to encourage and support local businesses, including those in regional New South Wales, and its sense of connection to place and community.
“We are also working with stakeholders from across Sydney to drive opportunities for collaboration and innovation, in the events industry and beyond,” says Geoff Donaghy, ICC Sydney’s chief executive.
“ICC Sydney is currently in talks with industry, government and academia to develop new ways to support Sydney’s tech start-up ecosystem and ultimately fuel its development, showcasing Sydney as a global hub of innovation – both inside the venue and out.
“All of this is part of ICC Sydney’s commitment to driving positive benefits beyond the venue itself – something that convention centres of tomorrow will need to do to meet expectations of clients and delegates from across the world.”
This approach is not unique to conventions centres in capital cities, with regional centres also embracing collaboration. Cairns Convention Centre has long been a standout performer when it comes to attracting international conferences, with its strong relationship with its two local universities, their academics and researchers ensuring its ability to be the envoy for collaboration across a number of scientific areas, according to general manager Ross Steele.
“Importantly for a regional city, the credibility and international reputation of the Cairns Convention Centre also acts as a catalyst
to overcome any perception of being less capable,” he says.
“In our region of Cairns Convention Centre
is able to promote and expose our clients to some very different service-delivery methods employed by our local professionals. The vast land area and remote communities they need to service requires our professionals
to work very differently to that of a capital city, particularly in the areas of health and education. It has and does provide sought after research opportunities.”
Darwin Convention Centre general manager Janet Hamilton also believes that convention centres need to be more than just venues that provide meeting spaces and food and beverages services.
“Centres need to be able to connect conference organisers with local experts whether it be in key industries, research centres, universities or cultural and tourism experiences,” she says. “This means knowing our city and region’s industry strengths and knowledge of future investment and innovation.
“It can be challenging for conference organisers to have detailed local knowledge. To assist clients in meeting their event objectives we need to know and promote the opportunities available
to them. Facilitating these connections will foster knowledge sharing, encourage delegate attendance and promote experiences beyond the Centre.”
Hamilton believes Darwin is an ideal location for supporting event planners beyond a venue only focus. “One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is listening to an organiser and then connecting them to key stakeholders in the Darwin community, which results in a positive outcome for everyone,” she says.
“Darwin is smaller than the east coast capital cities. We know each other, we trust each other and we have a real willingness to work as a team to win and then deliver outstanding conferences. We understand the economic benefit of business events but also the long term opportunities that come from knowledge sharing and connecting people with opportunities. Everyone is just a phone call away and willing to help.”
It’s not just Australian convention centres that are feeling the winds of change. The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre has also seen its role within the Malaysian capital’s ecosystem expand.
“It is becoming standard that convention centres need to know everything about the destination, and connect people to the industry supply chain,” says KLCC general manager Alan Pryor.
“They may ask you to connect them to people in a certain industry sector or identify sponsors. What they are looking for are meeting design specialists.”
The Centre also recently launched a new Business Events Alliance with key partners in the local precinct in an effort to smooth the planning process for international conference organisers.
“There is also the issue of having someone help navigate the local context, whether it is language or culture, so very often they rely on venues to give them that interface and get to know the lie of the land,” Pryor says. “It is very important for our team to understand the international context and the types of things that are typical of each country, as they all operate differently. We are in a position where our job description doesn’t describe what we do. We have to be an advocate, a lobbyist, an expert on our destination.”