During this pandemic the meetings industry has been hit hard. Convention centres, in particular, have seen the majority of their events cancelled or postponed, with heavy financial damages. International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney has been one of the victims of the virus, but the Australian venue knows how to fight. With innovation and progressive ideas as tools, ICC Sydney is ready to host big events once again – in fact its doors have never closed. ICC Sydney CEO, Geoff Donaghy, talks to Boardroom about the challenges, the opportunities and the future of the Centre.
- How has ICC Sydney responded to the pandemic so far? Can you explain the challenges and the opportunities it’s brought?
When the pandemic initially hit Australia in March 2020, all events for the foreseeable future at ICC Sydney were postponed or cancelled but we never closed our doors.
Our skilled team was quick to put in place a format that allowed us to continue to deliver events online for clients which evolved into a dual on-site and virtual events solution. The Hybrid Event Solutions has allowed clients to host attendees here on site whilst also live streaming to an unlimited number of remote attendees. We’ve had strong client uptake, delivering more than 200 hybrid and virtual events since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia.
We were making steady progress towards the end of last year however, Australia experienced a knock to confidence in late December with a series of local COVID-19 outbreaks. As a result, gathering restrictions were tightened and events planned for early 2021 were pushed out to later in the year.
Thankfully Australia has been able to contain the most recent outbreaks and restrictions have once again eased, allowing us to host a mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid national events.
In these uncertain times of fluctuating regulations, we have taken the opportunity to further review and constantly refine our rigorous safety measures, as well as refresh and expand our products and services.
The major constraint we now face is the lack of state border clarity and consistency in Australia, which creates a lack of confidence among potential delegates about travelling interstate. Until we get full and unfettered travel, the industry is very much hamstrung.
In terms of the return of international association events, Australia currently has closed international borders and realistically international events won’t resume until 2022 at the earliest.
The role out of COVID-19 vaccines is essential to ultimately allow the restart of the international market. Without widespread vaccinations, people cannot move freely again to attend business events with confidence and the industry will not fully recover until vaccines are readily available. Vaccinations in Australia are now underway – a major milestone.
- You’ve told us the knowledge economy is the silent sufferer of COVID-19. Can you elaborate?
The financial impact of the pandemic on Australia’s economic health has been well and truly documented. Specifically looking at our industry, the Business Council of Australia (BECA) reported a loss of $35 billion in direct expenditure to the Australian economy and over 230,000 jobs being affected as a result of the pandemic.
However, this is the tip of the iceberg. A significant ramification that hasn’t been widely acknowledged is the long term impact on the global knowledge economy which is silently suffering.
Business events delivery much more than travel and hospitality spend. They are a driving force for innovation, providing researchers and practitioners with a platform to discuss and disseminate new ideas.
Meeting in person allows for networking opportunities, business exchanges and introductions. Some of the greatest business ideas, scientific developments and technical innovations have been sparked during an event workshop or casual discussion in the corridors, outside of formal sessions.
Hosting virtual and hybrid events in the current climate has certainly been valuable for businesses and organisations to continue to come together in a pandemic environment however, there are some things that we need to do together face-to-face that you can’t easily replicate online.
As the pandemic endures, it’s never been more important for private industry, government and the community to recognise the broader value of business events to our society, beyond the obvious monetary outcomes.
- In what way(s) is ICC Sydney uniquely positioned to boost market confidence? What you can do so that associations have faith organizing meetings again in the safest environment possible?
In May 2020 we developed, and regularly update, our ICC Sydney EventSafe Operating Guide which integrates best practice from parent group ASM Global’s VenueShield – a program of the most advanced hygienic safeguards, informed by public health authorities, medical and industry experts – which has been deployed in ASM Global’s 325 worldwide facilities.
We also appointed an internal ICC Sydney COVID Taskforce at the beginning of the pandemic to guide the business and oversee our event and team operational procedures in line with frequently changing government legislation.
Because ICC Sydney never closed, we are match-fit and ready to host association events. We can ramp up our services and resources to hold more and larger events to a world class standard.
The current climate has brought about a need to be flexible and adjust to the variables that the pandemic presents. We are laser-focussed on collaborating with clients to translate the latest regulations into event plans, helping to make adjustments to bookings or floorplans, and taking into consideration the needs of in person and remote audiences.