Opinion: Events can’t restart with borders closed

Australia needs national solidarity around border restrictions, says one event prof.

Words by Marie Kinsella, CEO, International Exhibition and Conference Group

The $50 million grant to Australian business events has been well received, however it will have no benefit to those states that have closed their borders.

From the limited information to date, it seems that this welcomed $50 million funding will support multi-day national business events, being the traditional trade show and aligned conferences that are normally held in the major convention centres in each capital city.

Marie Kinsella

Most major organisers who conduct multi-day national business events eligible for the event funding  are based in Melbourne or Sydney.

Therefore the organisers and the exhibiting and delegate participants cannot travel to states with closed borders, such as Queensland, without isolating for 14 days at their own expense.

We have an annual trade event for the education sector that is mainly state-based and is held in Brisbane, however the team from our Melbourne office runs the event.

This event employs hundreds of Queensland contractor staff, including stand builders, security guards, AV technicians, registration and support staff and catering personnel – the entire event supply chain.

My five team members who would travel to Brisbane to conduct the event will have to isolate for 14 days and the company would have to pay thousands of dollars to do so before the show opening. This is a ridiculous proposition for any small business.

Where is the road map for opening the states borders, in particular the eastern states? Until state premiers announce what their plans are in respect to opening borders, when and under what conditions, it makes it impossible for organisers to contract with the major venues and plan accordingly.

Australia’s leaders both state and federal must have national solidarity. This was achieved in the first wave and lockdown. Why not the second wave?

The leaders should be encouraging collaboration amongst the states, focussing on the hotspots only and not closing state borders. COVID-19 is a health issue, not a health/state issue and we need to re-imagine how we can carry out business without compromising positive health outcomes.

The impact of COVID-19 will not be a 2020 and early 2021 phenomena. It is only the beginning of a long haul.

The federal and state governments need to work together on a national plan, open the borders with clear transparency so we as organisers can do what we do best – organise business events that have massive economic, social and cultural impact on Australia’s states and territories.

Marie Kinsella is CEO of International Exhibition & Conference Group Pty Ltd, which launched in 2015 and annually conducts approximately 10 major trade shows. During the current COVID restrictions, the company has moved rapidly to present virtual exhibitions and conferences across four industries.

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