Business events are a significant contributor to the Australian visitor economy. International business events visitors spend, on average, twice as much as leisure visitors during their stay. Beyond the economic benefits, business events showcase Australia’s capabilities in event delivery and key knowledge sectors, develop trade and investment relationships, and are catalysts for information sharing while providing a platform for international visitors to extend their stay in Australia for leisure purposes, establishing strong connections that can lead to return visitation.

Traditionally, Tourism Australia has supported the business events industry with activities spanning brand and content marketing, events, educational visit programmes, trade engagement opportunities and media programmes. While there have always been many ways the Australian industry can work with Tourism Australia, in 2018, the industry received another significant boost with the launch of the Business Events Bid Fund Program (BFP).

The BFP is designed to increase new international business events for Australia through the offer of financial support at the critical bidding stage. It is intended to deliver conversion in situations where Australia is bidding against international competitors for the right to host a business event.

“The Bid Fund Program is doing incredibly well. It’s been a game-changer for the Australian industry because it’s really helped drive conversion and visitation, as intended. The world of business events is very competitive and if you take into consideration Australia’s time, distance and cost barriers, we needed to provide an offer to make it easier to choose Australia,” says Penny Lion, Executive General Manager, Events, Tourism Australia. “Guaranteeing funding support early in the destination selection process does just that.”

When is support offered?  The programme offers financial support at the bidding stage for international corporate incentive trips, exhibitions, association conferences and congresses, which goes towards covering costs associated with the delivery of an event within Australia.

Penny Lion says the fund has been vital in attracting long-term business out of the U.S., U.K. and the rest of Europe, particularly in the association space.

She explains the money can be used to contribute towards expenditures, like booking convention centres and hotels, lowering the cost base of events and freeing up international clients and delegates to invest in travel, which has commonly been a deterrent for prospective business, due to Australia’s distance from key markets.

To qualify for the fund, events must have a minimum of 400 delegates for association events and 700 guests for incentive events.

“We’ve done a lot of homework on this, and we think our criteria are reasonable asks. Each region around Australia has different objectives and offerings when they are bidding for an international business event. We’ve taken all of that into consideration and know from the results to date, that the BFP provides a good return on investment across the nation.

“The Australian business events sector has been extremely engaged with the fund since its launch. For me, it is gratifying to see industry convert more business for Australia. It’s been especially effective in regions where that extra nudge of support from the bid fund helps them secure business that previously may have been just out of their reach.”

Key to increasing global ranking  The Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Hiebl said the events industry must use the fund to help reverse Australia’s recent decline in global ranking and market share, having dropped out of the top ten in the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) annual country rankings.

“Like many other countries, Australia has been calling out for a national bid fund for many years. It’s a powerful tool to have when we’re collaborating to pitch for a piece of business. The entire Australian industry applauded it,” says Andrew Hiebl.

“What’s great is that the fund is accessible nationwide and with convention centres in every one of our capital cities, our hotel infrastructure developing, and access to Australia now boasting direct flights from London and easy access from Asia, the Bid Fund Program is that extra ingredient that can help confirm an event. It’s the icing on the cake,” says Andrew Hiebl.

How does it work?  All applications must be for future events and support through the bid fund is determined through a strategic assessment process.

The mandatory criteria against which submissions are assessed ensure the fund supports events which align with the Australian Government’s Trade and Investment Priority Sectors and Tourism Australia’s business events strategy. Criteria also preference support for bids which have the potential to attract large numbers of international visitors to Australia and which are likely to deliver significant economic value to Australia.

“For association events, Australia has another significant advantage. With many international associations looking to expand their delegate base from across Asia, our proximity to Asia means Australia is an appealing destination to tap into that growing region and all it offers. The Bid Fund Program makes the business case for choosing Australia even more compelling, particularly for northern hemisphere decision makers who want to leverage our proximity to Asia,” says Penny Lion.

The Bid Fund has seen significant return on investment in its first 18 months and Penny Lion points out that it is Australia’s holistic offering which is behind the success of the fund.

“The Bid Fund is the perfect complement to our existing strategic, considered and collaborative approach which includes our marketing and distribution activities and our key partnerships. And, of course, all of this is also ultimately underpinned by the Australian industry’s ability to deliver exceptional, creative, objective-achieving event experiences time and again,” says Penny Lion.

Penny Lion joined Tourism Australia in 2010 as Head of Business Events and became Executive General Manager, Events, in August 2016. Her experience in the events sector encompasses strategy, marketing, sales, operations, and stakeholder management and spans more than 20 years working on trade, consumer and corporate events.

Andrew Hiebl managed convention bureaux in the regional destinations of Albury Wodonga and the Great Ocean Road, as well as chairing Business Events Victoria for three years. After securing “Hall of Fame” status for Business Events Geelong at the national Meetings & Events Industry Awards in 2012, Andrew took on the role of CEO for the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) and an associated board position with the Business Events Council of Australia.