Australia’s Rotary Connection: Melbourne Hosts RICON23

13th September 2023

The Rotary International Convention (RICON23) staged in Melbourne in late May 2023 brought together more than 14,000 Rotarians from 120 countries, making its fellowship one of the world’s largest gatherings of business, professional, and community participants.

Rotary International is a global network of leaders who seek to do good in the world, volunteering their time and efforts to tackle global humanitarian challenges. It connects 1.4 million members in 46,000 clubs across 200 countries and their invaluable work is undertaken at both local and international levels. 

The organisation’s annual convention is staged at various locations around the world. The four-day event in May provided an impressive showcase of Melbourne and Australia’s capacity and capability for large global conventions. 

Amongst its many projects, Rotary is leading the charge to eradicate polio throughout the world. In support of that initiative, an End Polio Now Walk was undertaken on the day prior to the commencement of the convention with many Rotarian delegates participating, as well as local Rotarians and supporters. The 2.5-kilometre walk extended from Federation Square in Melbourne’s city centre, past many city landmarks, ending at the Rotary Peace Park located in the south-east corner of the city’s Domain parklands. Four Peace Bells were unveiled in the park during the 2023 Rotary International Convention and will serve as the convention’s legacy to Melbourne. This initiative was supported by the City of Melbourne, Rotary International and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Australia’s Rotary connection

Australia has hosted Rotary on four previous occasions – Melbourne in 1993, Sydney in 1971 and 2014, and Brisbane in 2003. It was especially significant for Melbourne to be the 2023 host, as the city’s Rotary Club was the first to be established in Australia, and recently celebrated its centenary (in 2021). Today Australia is home to over 1,000 Rotary Clubs encompassing more than 23,000 members.

Up against formidable competition with London also seeking to host the 2023 convention, Melbourne’s world-class facilities, excellent transport networks, multi-cultural population and ‘walkability’ all contributed to making it an appealing choice as the 2023 host city.

Gordon McInally, the President-Elect for Rotary International talked about Melbourne’s assets as the convention’s host city.

“The great attraction of Melbourne was not only the convention facilities which are excellent, the transport links which are very good but just the size of the city. It provides a good opportunity for delegates to move around and engage with each other, because that’s very valuable. Melbourne is a perfect size of city for a convention of our size. And I’ve been very impressed by the local Rotarians who have been able to give this convention a uniquely Australian flavour.”

Shannon Watson, Director of Meetings and Events for Rotary International provided insights into what Rotary seeks in a host destination. 

“Rotary has some very, very specific criteria that we seek in a host city. It’s really important to us to know that first of all, we have the infrastructure to support a multilingual, multicultural community coming together. 

“Typically, we have a fairly substantial number of people who are coming to our convention. So we also need to know that there are the services and necessary space in order to host the convention events effectively. Once we had a chance to come to Melbourne and see the world class facilities, see how wonderful the city is, how welcoming the city is, it really made it very easy to make them among our finalist choices.”

Rotary Polio Walk

A warm multi-cultural welcome

Australia’s largest city, Melbourne provided a warm multicultural welcome from its population whose provenance encompasses more than 200 countries and represents over 260 different languages. This multiculturalism ensured ready access to native speakers and translators, diverse cuisine plus multi-lingual signage and directions to assist delegates. To convey Melbourne’s warm greeting to delegates, “Welcome Rotary” banners were erected throughout the city.

Melbourne’s leading venues were involved with the staging of the Rotary International Convention. Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park & Olympic Parks, where the renowned Australian Open tennis tournament is staged annually, hosted the welcome event and also plenary sessions.  The extensive Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre hosted the House of Friendship Exhibit Hall, a central hub for meetings and networking and general sessions.

Both these venues, which are located on the banks of the city’s Yarra River, were easily accessible on foot via the city’s tram and rail network, or the convenient RICON23 shuttle bus service.


Event: Rotary International Convention (RICON23)

When: 27-31 May 2023

Where: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre & Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park

Hundreds of other associated events took place in venues across Melbourne and included sporting icon venues such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, known worldwide as the MCG, and Flemington Racecourse, home of the world-renowned Melbourne Cup Carnival.

Attendees stayed at more than 67 hotels across Melbourne, delivering close to 37,000 room nights across the duration of the convention.

Sustainability a Melbourne feature

Sustainability was an important part of Melbourne’s bid for the convention. Ranked number one in Australia on the 2022 Global Destination Sustainability Index, the city was keen to showcase its credentials.  

Two key venues for the Rotary International Convention boast excellent rankings – the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre holds six green-star status, and Rod Laver Arena is LEED Gold-certified, placing it amongst some of the most sustainable and energy-efficient buildings in the world. The city’s renowned tram network is not only a charming and convenient mode of transport but is also 100 per cent offset by renewable energy, with over 400 of the city’s trams having carbon neutral status.

A collaborative effort

Hosting the event was a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Australian Rotary International organising committee. They were strongly supported by the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) who led the bid to bring the convention to Melbourne with support from the Victorian Government and the Business Events Bid Fund Program,managed by Business Events Australia. The city’s famed “Team Melbourne” approach comprising MCB Partners along with the City of Melbourne and multiple city organisations ensured a successful event for organisers and delegates alike. 

Shannon Watson, Director of Meetings and Events for Rotary International, spoke highly of the support provided to Rotary International in Australia.

“Melbourne Convention Bureau and their partners have been exceptional. We do this event all around the world sequentially every year and I can’t tell you what a difference it makes when we have a strong destination marketing organization partner – MCB ticked all of those boxes. They were incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly helpful, incredibly successful in helping to understand what our needs were and delivering on them.”

In addition to the city itself, delegates were encouraged to travel further afield to explore the many stunning attractions and experiences within one to two hours proximity of the city, as well as in regional Victoria and throughout Australia.

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