Navigating the Future of Business Events With Tourism Australia’s Phillipa Harrison

21st June 2024

Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director of Tourism Australia, discusses the challenges and opportunities facing Australia as a premier destination for business events. In an interview with Boardroom, she highlights the country’s innovative strategies to enhance sustainability, attract international visitors, and stay competitive in the global tourism market.

Words Remi Deve

Many people feel that traveling such long distances for conferences is not sustainable. How is this sentiment affecting travel to Australia?

There’s a growing awareness regarding sustainability, and people are starting to think more critically about their travel choices. Our research shows that people are staying longer and spending more when they do travel to Australia. This trend reflects a combination of business and leisure, making the most of the long journey. Approximately 40% of delegates attending a conference or event in Australia also visit other parts of the country, which is excellent for our visitor economy.

How does Australia ensure it remains competitive in the global tourism and business events market despite its geographic distance?

It’s a constant challenge. We can’t rest on our laurels; we must continuously innovate and clearly articulate why Australia is worth the journey. We’re well-positioned geographically to attract visitors from South-East Asia, which is a region undergoing economic growth.  

We also focus on promoting the unique experiences Australia offers and the strong value proposition for business events here. We use our iconic symbols like the kangaroo and the Sydney Opera House to draw people in and from there, we introduce them to fresh and surprising elements of Australia, such as unique culinary experiences or Indigenous cultural activities. We aim to showcase the depth and breadth of what Australia offers beyond the familiar icons.

How are you addressing the shifting preferences of younger generations who may be hesitant to travel long distances for meetings?

We emphasize that visiting Australia is not just about attending a meeting; it’s about discovering a new culture. While the flight may have a carbon footprint, the overall experience, particularly the land component, often has a lower footprint than expected. Our industry is making strides in sustainability, and we aim to share these stories. 

We have several initiatives that allow delegates to give back and feel good about their trip. For example, in Cairns, you can participate in reef regeneration projects with Indigenous guides. In Darwin, you can collect marine debris and turn it into art. Activities like these support our environment and provide meaningful experiences for our visitors.

Additionally, the aviation industry is working hard on reducing its environmental impact, which will help in the long run.

What role do business events play in driving economic growth for Australia?

Business events is an industry which was worth $4.5 billion to Australia in 2023 – it is hugely important for our economy, providing significant economic returns. For every dollar invested in our subvention fund, we get $51 back. We align our support with strategic industries where Australia has strengths, such as agribusiness, healthcare, and technology. These events not only bring immediate economic benefits but also support the advancement of these key industries.

Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director of Tourism Australia,

How does Tourism Australia collaborate with local governments and industry partners to showcase the country’s unique offerings?

We work closely with various stakeholders under the banner of Team Australia. While there is competition among cities for business, we collaborate to present a united front internationally. Our partnership programs, like the Advance Program, help develop marketing assets and boost delegate activity, ensuring we effectively deliver Australia’s message globally.

The Australia Innovates series is another good example of how we collaborate, highlighting champions of innovation across various sectors. These stories showcase our strengths and attract international business events by aligning with our strategic industries.

What are the major trends shaping the future of business events, and how is Australia responding to them?

The two major trends we’re seeing are sustainability and the rise of AI. Sustainability is one of our strategic priorities at Tourism Australia and we have an important role to play in championing and elevating the importance and the appeal of sustainable tourism, through advocacy and education. This is not just environmentally, but also culturally, through spotlighting our rich Indigenous heritage. In parallel, our business events sector is innovating in sustainable practices like waste management and energy efficiency, and many of our convention centres are world-leading according to accreditation programs.  

As for AI, it’s transforming the industry through creating efficiencies, but we believe in the enduring value of face-to-face interactions, which will continue to drive the demand for in-person events.

What’s your outlook on the future of business events in Australia?

I’m optimistic. Despite the challenges globally, the desire for in-person interactions remains strong. As we continue to address sustainability and embrace new technologies, Australia will remain a desirable destination for business events. The industry’s ability to innovate and adapt will be key to our continued success.

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