They say success has many fathers, and in the case of the new national bid fund it would be fair to say that many people have contributed to its fruition over the years across the whole industry. However, in this case it would also be fair to say that without a Minister for Tourism in the shape of Steve Ciobo it would have taken a lot longer to get.
Joyce DiMascio, CEO of the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia, says Ciobo’s deep understanding of the visitor economy stems from his 17 years representing the people of the Gold Coast, a region whose economic strength is steeped in the success of the tourism industry.
“The great bonus is that as the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Ciobo is uniquely placed to understand the impact of business events way beyond the visitor economy,” she says.
“Steve Ciobo made this investment in our sector happen, it’s as simple as that. He has always engaged with the industry and encouraged us to work together to make a business case for funding and policy support.”
Matt Hingerty, chair of the Business Events Council of Australia, also stresses the importance of having a Minister who understands the complexity of the sector.
“Ciobo has long been an advocate for the services economy in general and the events sector in particular,” he says. “Unlike most politicians he also understands the difference between general events and business events. The confluence of the importance of business events to his local electorate on the Gold Coast, and the fact that he was Minister for both Tourism and Trade meant that he was the right Minister at the right time.”
The appointment of Ciobo to his current role also coincided with Australia’s surge in overseas visitors, with international arrivals and spend at record levels.
“With the fast growth of economies across Asia and recovering incentive markets in the US and the UK, we believe there is potential to significantly increase business event visitation and spend over the next decade,” says Ciobo. “The funds will also only cover on the ground costs associated with the delivery of an event, ensuring that every dollar goes back into the Australian economy through tourism products such as accommodation, transport and venue hire.”
Tourism Australia’s unit Business Events Australia will oversee the new fund, with $12 million available over three years.
With applications opening on July 1, there will be a few already preparing their case.
“We will endeavour to respond to requests quickly and anticipate response times between 14 to 21 days, depending on any requirements for additional information or documentation to assess applications,” says Penny Lion, executive general manager of events at Tourism Australia.
Barry Neame, president of the Professional Conference Organisers Association, describes the announcement as “a watershed for our industry sector”.
“The Government has recognised that the business events sector is not just part of the tourism economy,” he says. “There is a feeling that the bid fund will enhance Australia’s ranking for international events and create some momentum for our sector and make Australia more competitive with other international locations.”
The number of international business events secured for Australia into the future is 361 down from 396 six months ago. A total of 304 international business events were lost, translating to $1 billion in delegate expenditure that will now be spent in other countries.
According to the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) Forward Calendar, the main reason for Australia losing out on bids is simply our geographical location.
“We are one of the furthest destinations from Europe and North America, we are not going to be able to change that but the bid fund can help mitigate risk against that long haul travel and allow that convention or incentive budget to stretch further into other areas,” says Andrew Hiebl, CEO of the AACB.
“Also looking at the total cost of holding your event in Australia, although we are a very professional outfit and recognised as such we are also perceived as high cost and so the bid fund mitigates against that perception. Financial packages offered by other countries was 10 per cent of the reason why Australia lost on international business events. The national bid fund touches on all of these elements. Although the fund may not stretch to every single opportunity we put our hand up for it does reflect on those key areas.”
Tamara Kavalec, CEO of Arinex, says Australia punches above its weight when it comes to winning international business.
“However, we operate in a hugely competitive global environment, and as more and more emerging destinations open up and better market themselves, it becomes increasingly difficult to attract business,” she says.
“This is why the new federal bid fund is so important. Arinex has a long history of advocating for a government funding pot and we are so excited to see it finally come to fruition. The majority of our association clients are volunteers and any revenue from their events is reinvested to benefit their members or their sector, be it through education or putting it towards the next conference, and so strong attention is paid to their bottom line. To be able to offer monetary support to prospective clients is incredibly valuable and it could be what helps us secure the next, major international event.”
Tim Hancock, CEO of ASN Events, says the bid fund has come at the right time. “Australia as a destination has simply been outgunned and out smarted by other countries in the Asia Pacific who have sophisticated strategies in place, as well as substantial funding, to win bids,” he says.
“The announcement should enable Australia to provide a much more attractive financial proposition in some of those instances where we might be outbid. Enabling a federal perspective to bids which have traditionally been state or destination orientated will help us compete with other countries who have already aggressively moved to a holistic approach to winning bids. Whilst the bid fund announcement is a major positive for the Australian events industry, the stakeholders in the industry such as ourselves and other major PCOs must ensure we have a continual mindset of development and not rely on the fund as the primary business development tool.”
Robyn Johnson, CEO of Meetings & Events Australia, says she is confident the new federal funding will deliver an improvement in Australia’s international rankings.
“The $12 million over three years is a substantial level of funding support,” she says. “Of course it would be great to see the fund continue after the three years and potentially more money allocated. Our task as an industry over the next three years is to put the funding to work and to be able to demonstrate that it is a valuable investment by the government.”
Ciobo says the dollar figure was agreed on after working closely with Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan and the board.
“I think the investment of $12 million of taxpayer funds needs to pay off in a significant increase in terms of what we can see in the business events space,” Ciobo says. “Whether that’s in terms of the size, or for the quality of a business event through to the frequencies of business events. All of them will be critical indicators of the success or otherwise of this program. The $12 million is substantial, but in terms of government programs, a modest program. It’s a good ‘dip the toe in the water’, so to speak, let’s see how it works and we can make an assessment from there.”