Reopening Australia’s state and territory borders is the “single most critical restriction” that needs to be dealt with in order to rebuild the business events industry, according to Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) chair Vanessa Findlay.
Findlay, along with Andrew Hiebl, CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 on Thursday, 20 August.
The committee, which was established to inquire into the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, heard of the ongoing challenges facing the $35.7 billion business events industry and the immediate need for targeted government support.
In addition to financial support, BECA called on the government for more clarity around the reopening of state and territory borders to allow business events to resume.
When asked by senator James Paterson how important the reopening of borders is for the industry, Findlay said it is the “single most critical restriction that we need dealt with”.
“It’s our absolute priority at the moment,” she said.
“Others come quickly after that but, until border restrictions are lifted, there isn’t a lot that we can do to rebuild our industry.”
Hiebl agreed, saying Australia is fortunate to have a strong domestic events market, however it cannot resume with the state borders closed.
“To add to that, most of our industry has responded to state and territory requests to design COVID-safe plans to open and operate in a safe way, and the frustration there is that they’re not allowed to enforce or enact those plans at this point in time,” he said.
“They’ve all invested time and resources to develop those plans.”
Findlay went on to say BECA’s recover and rebound framework, which is now sitting with government, is about helping to increase confidence around booking business events.
“It’s about what mechanisms we can put in place that help to counter the nervousness around booking an event because of the unpredictability around how states and territories are going to react to the detection of even a single COVID case,” she told the committee.
“It goes to your point earlier around whether our members understand what restrictions the states and territories are putting in place and why.
“From our industry’s perspective, many of those restrictions can’t be understood from an evidence-based logic. There’s something else going on.”
Senator Paterson then asked if Findlay was able to “venture a guess at what that something else might be”.
“It’s politics,” she said.
Insurance on the agenda
BECA is also working with Minister Simon Birmingham, the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit, the National COVID-19 Commission and the insurance industry to resolve the insurance issues that are undermining confidence in planning events.
Findlay told the senate committee insurance is “one of the big stressors for business event organisers” right now.
“We haven’t been able to gain clarity from the insurance industry that an event that is cancelled as a result of a pandemic is actually covered,” she said.
“And, of course, that severely undermines the confidence of people to book an event and know that, if it’s cancelled as a result of government restrictions, they can actually cover the costs.”
Enquiries are high, conversions remain low
Hiebl told the committee while enquiry levels for business events are still quite healthy across the country, conversions aren’t happening.
“In relation to whether a state will impose further restrictions, further lockdowns, into the future and whether the borders will be open, there’s just not enough confidence for event owners to sign a contract – that’s part of the frustration,” he said.
“One of the positives about our industry is that there [is] a long lead time, because you’re dealing with business far into the future. But that’s also a downside when you need that confidence.”
On conclusion, Findlay said the next step is implementing a program for the industry to provide the support they need to make “decisions around sustainability and viability into the future”.
“We have now faced, as I said, close to zero per cent revenue for six months,” she said.
“While it might be reasonable to expect a business to be able to look after itself for that period of time, anything beyond that is now very serious danger territory for every business in our industry.
“What I propose we’ll do now is package up the very comprehensive survey data that we have prepared, as well as the Recovery and Rebound Framework. We can provide that to the committee as a basis for your future considerations when you prepare your report.”