Some are calling it the biggest conference in Australia since COVID-19 and others believe it’s the biggest in the world but either way, the Victorian Tourism Conference was a long-awaited boost of confidence for the business events industry.
More than 900 delegates came together in person over two days at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and the atmosphere was truly electric.
Presented by Visit Victoria, the Victoria Tourism Industry Council and WaldronSmith Management, the event kicked off on Wednesday 21 April with MC Holly Ransom telling the crowd, “I’ve never been prouder to be a Victorian.”
The optimism continued throughout the first day’s program, which included presentations from Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Martin Pakula, Visit Victoria CEO Brendan McClements, former NIKE vice president Lisa MacCallum and chef and restaurateur Shane Delia.
Speaking to Spice News, Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO Julia Swanson said such a large, controlled gathering will bring confidence back into the business events industry.
“That’s why we didn’t consider a hybrid event, because we wanted people to reconnect, gather and collaborate again, share ideas and network away from their screens,” she said.
“The fact that we’ve grown to 900 delegates in a really short amount of time shows the appetite is there.
“We’re feeling really optimistic about the future and this is a platform for us to show that optimism and what is possible. Hopefully confidence breeds confidence.”
Delegates ended the day with a networking event presented by Showtime Event Group at Cargo Hall and Melbourne Public. The buzz of people mingling over food and drinks wasn’t lost on the hundreds of Victorians who spent much of 2020 in lockdown.
Day two started with an emotional, yet uplifting keynote by author of Heartache & Birdsong Sam Bloom, before presentations by Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley and MCEC chief executive Peter King.
In an interview with Spice News, King said being able to host what he’s told is the biggest conference in the world since COVID-19 is a huge achievement.
“Victoria’s copped a bit of a battering, so this is a really positive sign and it will allow us to rebuild confidence,” he said.
“I really think there is a strong pent-up demand to get back into some sort of business rhythm.
“It has been tough to get to this point, but it will [return] quickly if we just get a bit more confidence, so today’s such a great platform to build on.”
King said the event is also a clear demonstration that in-person events can be held safely.
“It gives visibility to the government and the Department of Health that we can deliver these events under COVID-safe protocols and deliver a really safe, quality event,” he said.
“The more they see that, the more likely they are to release some of the restrictions.”
The Victorian Tourism Conference wraps up today with a final keynote presentation by futurist Chris Riddel.