Q&A: How MCEC is preparing for a strong future

'We have absolute clarity as to where we're going for the first time since this all began,' said Peter King.

As more than 900 delegates flowed through the doors of Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) late last month, the centre’s chief executive Peter King sat down with Spice News to share an update on the venue’s recovery.

Q: MCEC is today (21 April) welcoming its biggest crowd since COVID-19 for the Victorian Tourism Conference. What is the significance of this event for MCEC?

A: Victoria’s copped a bit of a battering, so this is a really positive sign and it will allow us to rebuild confidence. 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 just a great platform to build on. It’s a big commitment for organisers to put the money down on the table and go ahead and produce these events, so this will be a really good sign.

Q: Has the centre been able to put more staff back on as a result of more events taking place?

A: We’ve been funded by government up to this point so we’re in current negotiations about future funding. But it’s been difficult, we just haven’t had the business to keep people fully employed. Every week changes that situation and we want to be able to get back and employ as many people as we can.

Q: Talk to us about MCEC’s creative solutions during COVID-19, is this something that will continue?

A: It was a great exercise to go through in a sense that we got through that critical incident phase and we looked at the future and decided that business as usual wasn’t an option for us. We wanted to look at new partnerships and new ways of using the spaces, so we invested heavily into that innovation space with our business relaunch program and that’s really been effective right up until now, so we are very determined to retain a capacity for innovation in the future.

“We’re at this point now where we have absolute clarity as to where we’re going for the first time since this all began.”

There’s still a lot of uncertainty, still an enormous amount of difficult conversations to have and some heartache to be felt I’m sure as we go through these next few months, but we know where we’re going now and a lot of that’s driven around getting the right people, the right capabilities and skills in the business for the future.

Strategically we’re focusing on getting back to financial sustainability in the business, so sweating the assets, working our existing partnerships and relationships as hard as we can and then there will be capacity for the future, so investing in new products and partnerships.

“We will work closely with government and local community partners to be a really strong advocate for bringing business back into the CBD, Melbourne and Victoria.”

The last bit is really around our people, getting the best future-focused structure and capabilities. And we are going to need a lot of new skills, so we’re doing a lot of work on that at the moment. It’s a really interesting phase, it’s a really uncertain but we’ve actually got clarity.

Q: MCEC is currently using some of its space as a COVID-19 vaccination hub. How does that coexist with events that are taking place?

A: We’ve done a lot of work in this space. After the bushfires we became a relief centre, then once COVID hit we were going to be a 600-bed ICU hospital at one stage, and we’ve talked to the courts about potentially providing space for court issues. So we’ve been doing a lot of work in utilising our space differently and the vaccination centre fits into that.

It’s licensed space to the Department of Health and operates as a complete separate unit, so we have no interaction with it really. We’ll support that for as long as we can but I don’t want that to get in the way of rebuilding our business as well, so there’s a bit of a balance there that we’ll address over the next month or so.

Q: What does the future event pipeline look like for MCEC?

A: September, October and November [2021] are looking really good and we have a couple of big events that will take the whole venue so it’s starting to pick up again. It’s not bouncing back to where we were by any means, but that period is looking really solid.

Next year is also looking pretty solid, so it’s about trying to work collaboratively and transparently with our organisers because there does need to be flexibility in the spaces required. We’re going to have to do this together, and I think that’s a good initiative that’s come out of this – we are working closely with the partners.

Q: Will MCEC continue to offer hybrid event solutions for clients?

A: We’re continually investing a lot in that area, by bringing in some external support as well as bolstering our internal capability. We can offer the full virtual/hybrid experience and we have two different studio options here so we’ll be doing a lot of work on that because hybrid is not going to go away. So we’re investing in that and that’s an opportunity to add some value back to organisers and customers as well.

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