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If Australia means business when it comes to boosting the economy, connecting industry leaders and accelerating innovation through the exchange of information and ideas, we must introduce a national business events fund.
To boost Australia’s chances of securing more international conferences that meet national significance criteria, the Government should commit new funding of A$10 million per annum for four years.
Australia’s convention bureaux do well in attracting international conventions despite our distance from the major markets of Europe and North America. In 2015, Australia hosted 247 international meetings, sliding two places down world rankings to 15. Australia’s market share is declining in the face of both improved convention facilities and more aggressive bidding elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia.
A 2015 Ernst and Young report on the value of business events to Australia found the sector delivers A$28 billion in direct expenditure each year and generates more than 180,000 jobs. To put these numbers in perspective; the cruise industry is worth just A$3.6 billion and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the mining industry generates 170,000 jobs, and that number is declining.
Business events are the highest yielding sector within Australia’s visitor economy, and I believe we can do more.
Recent figures released in September 2016 by Tourism Research Australia show that international visitors are spending more than ever before. International tourists spent A$38.1 billion in the last financial year, an increase of 14 per cent. Research commissioned by Business Events Sydney (BESydney) shows that the biggest spenders of all are Asian delegates who spend up to 6.5 times more than the average leisure tourist. China is the largest source of international visitors and continues to lead tourism growth across the country, which is boosting our visitor economy.
But wait there’s more.
Just measuring the sector on yield is taking a narrow view of its true worth because we know that hosting international business events in Australia drives trade opportunities, attracts inward investment and facilitates collaboration and innovation.
BESydney’s latest research Conferences: catalysts for thriving economies, evaluates the long-term gains that are enjoyed by industries, governments and communities when a business event is held. These include but are not limited to:
Approximately 50 destinations have official bid funds including Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Malaysia, Kyoto and Seoul. New Zealand has already identified this issue in line with the direct and indirect benefits that hosting international conventions bring, and has made available NZ$40 million over four years to secure these lucrative events.
There are also parallels with South Africa where an annual fund of R36 million is in place to attract long-haul business to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town convention centres. Further, VisitScotland estimates that their annual bid fund of £2 million, matched by city councils, has brought in £200 million worth of business since its inception in 2012.
In Australia, we are used to this practice within major events, sports, culture and the arts. Why not international business events?
This month Ambassador of Australia to the US, His Excellency the Honorable Joe Hockey, will deliver a speech in Washington to business event clients with business worth A$200 million. As a former Treasurer of Australia, Mr Hockey is able to lend his voice to encourage more overseas associations to bring their conference to Australia so we can enjoy ongoing legacy benefits.
Around the world, business events are being used as strategic tools for attracting trade, foreign investment and global talent. The current Federal Government recognised this potential with former Trade and Investment Minister the Honorable Andrew Robb AO labelling international conferences a key contributor to Australia’s economic diplomacy agenda and launching the Attracting Business Events to Australia framework.
International conferences also have a role to play in the nation’s renewed focus on innovation, science and jobs of the future.
It is strange that while Australia has world-class universities and research organisations, we are still ranked last in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in research-business collaboration.
Business events can help remedy this. Attracting strategically important meetings to the country can strengthen the relationship between Australia’s research organisations and the world’s most innovative businesses and investors. Hosting conventions make knowledge transfer and collaboration possible by bringing together global experts, while exhibitions provide a platform to showcase our leading innovations to the world.
We all know the saying you need to spend money to make money. The business sector of Australia’s visitor economy is delivering the dollars and now it’s time for the Government to start spending more and invest in an even stronger return for the nation.
If Australia wants to be able to compete more effectively with global rivals, we need stronger government investment. In doing so, we can also deliver more prosperity for Australians.