Business events marketing critical to Australia’s visitor economy

When the Trump Administration first announced its bans on travel to the US from seven countries, the impact was immediate and widespread, causing what the World Travel and Tourism Council described as “immense confusion among travellers and travel companies worldwide.”

Many who were on US-bound flights when the ban was activated were denied entry to the country when they arrived, while other intending travellers, both for leisure and business, swiftly cancelled or changed their plans to fly to America.

New York City revised its 2017 visitor number projections down by 300,000, the first reduction since 2008. And the State of Hawaii, which is driven by the visitor economy, won a court injunction, deferring implementation of a revised version of the ban.

Without wading into the politics of security, the various restrictions proposed by the US, or rather the backwash from them, have created an opportunity for other destinations including Australia.

Our focus of late has been on the massive source markets of China and greater Asia, which are fast overhauling, though not replacing, our more traditional tourism markets such as third-ranked UK, the US itself, the markets of Europe and our nearest neighbor, New Zealand.

But there’s also fantastic opportunity in the high-value business events market, the delegates of which contribute one in every five dollars spent in Australia by international visitors, according to Deloitte Access Economics. On average, these delegates also spend 21 per cent more than other international visitors, and 77 per cent more per day.

The Association of Australian Convention Bureaux produces a “Forward Calendar”, which provides a list of upcoming events which have been won by members, as well as an analysis of bids which have been lost to other markets.

The latest tally, for the period from January 2017 until the end of 2023, shows 384 total business events confirmed, covering a total of 1,675 days (equivalent to 4.5 full years), and delivering an estimated total of 321,598 delegates (216,504 international, 105,094 domestic), who will spend an estimated $863.26 million ($621 million international delegates, $242 million domestic).

But on the downside, the AACB data shows that 296 business events over the same period have been lost to other destinations, and with them an estimated visitor spend of more than $1 billion. That hurts, as the US city of Philadelphia can attest, having recently lost the opportunity to host a 3,000-delegate event worth an estimated $7 million – an outcome it blamed on the travel bans proposed by the US Administration.

There are two key messages here, the first being that for all the events that we have secured, there are major opportunities to secure events of the same or even greater value. The second message is that opportunities for Australia will often arise from difficulties in other markets, and we need to be prepared to move quickly and competently to lock them in.

To this end, we support the AACB’s call for the establishment of a national convention bid fund, essentially an investment fund provided by governments and industry to provide modest support to overseas associations seeking to hold their conventions in Australia. It is critical however, that there is no action to use money from Tourism Australia for this purpose. They need every cent they currently have to make the most of all tourism opportunities.

Finally this week, it is fantastic to see weather conditions finally calming, and both cyclone and flood-affected areas, specifically Queensland’s Whitsundays and northern NSW, declaring themselves open for business again ahead of this week’s Easter holiday break.

For some properties, the damage was so great that it could take a year to rebuild and reopen, while others are sensibly taking the opportunity to bring forward planned upgrades. But even as they start the difficult task of reconstruction, they are graciously continuing to support the efforts of others in promoting the fact that their regions may have lost some of their hosting capacity (for now), but  have lost none of the natural appeal which draws visitors there in the first place.