AACB view March 2017

Andrew Hiebl, chief executive officer Association of Australian Convention Bureaux

An economic growth opportunity

Reviewing both successes and failures is one of the most important ways an industry can lift its levels of performance. Convention bureaux across Australia are now carrying out such broad reviews with the aim generating more success into the future, despite a highly competitive environment.

Members of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) have all agreed to share their bidding data with us — their peak association — to benchmark productivity and performance from a national perspective and this is turning out to be an invaluable advocacy tool.

The AACB’s most recent analysis revealed that while 360 international business events had been secured by convention bureaux into the future (from July 2016), attracting some 290,000 delegates (190,000 international), Australia had also lost 235 international bids across the next decade.

This lost business is estimated to be valued at $805 million in direct delegate expenditure — which will now take place in other countries. This key point should be carefully considered by governments across Australia when shaping policy and determining future levels of support.

So where exactly are these business events going? While it is hard to pinpoint this from a corporate meetings and incentives perspective, we can look to the International Congress and Convention Association’s annual country and city rankings to identify trends for the association segment. In 2006, Australia was ranked in the 10 top countries (9th) to play host to major international association conventions. All other countries in the top 10 were predominantly from Europe and the USA. The closest Asian rivals were Japan at 12th and China at 14th.

Ten years on, the 2015 rankings highlight the rise of our competitors in the Asia-Pacific region, with Japan, China and South Korea all moving ahead of Australia — we are now ranked 15th. The future rise of Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia should also not be underestimated.

In fact, the top five cities in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East now include Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Beijing. Sydney ranks 7th, with Melbourne and Brisbane at 12th and 21st respectively.

As the organisations tasked with bringing major conventions to our cities, Australia’s convention bureaux face unprecedented competition from Asian and Middle Eastern destinations, many of who have new meetings infrastructure to fill. Despite this, our time to shine is now, given that Asia and the Middle East’s market share of international association meetings has risen by 10% to 18.2% over the past 50 years, at the expense of Europe.

Of the 235 international bids lost, 141 were for association conventions. Some 36% of these were attributed to stronger financial packages offered by rivals, as well as risks associated with long-haul destinations, such as distance and cost.

As large conferences are extremely expensive to stage, associations seek support from governments to mitigate the risks of hosting their events in various destinations. Of the five leading host countries for conventions in Asia-Pacific, only Australia lacks a national bid fund and this places us at a competitive disadvantage.

The AACB strongly believes that the business events segment of the tourism industry can help grow the Australian economy with the assistance of targeted public policy measures. These have been outlined in the association’s 2017/18 Pre-Budget Submission. In this document, the AACB supports the introduction of a national convention bid fund, a position also championed by the Business Events Council of Australia and the Tourism and Transport Forum. Hosting more business events in Australia means more jobs — both direct and indirect employment — which also benefits the economy as a whole.