From the get-go, Business Events Sydney is different to its convention bureau peers around the world. It describes itself as a specialist bidding services organisation responsible for attracting global meetings to Sydney. A local expert with remarkable connections, the organisation is working to grow Sydney’s (and consequently, Australia’s) international reputation as one of the world’s most memorable hosts.
Financially supported and backed by the New South Wales State Government, the services offered by Business Events Sydney are free and unbiased as a not-for-profit company with a focus on value creation. Their global team partners with clients to win a range of global meetings.
“To bring global meetings to Australia, we have talented people located in Asia, Europe and the Americas, as well as our head office here in Sydney. We hail from ten nationalities and speak 19 languages. Moreover, with our vast experience across a range of industry sectors, we can quickly get to the bottom of a client’s needs, and open their eyes to the unique ways Sydney can make their next meeting unforgettable. Our work is built on diversity and driven by purpose and passion,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Business Events Sydney.
“This independent global perspective puts us in an oustanding position as an industry. We have an opportunity to shape our cities. I think for far too long, our industry has focused on the room nights (many still do), placing their value on tourism supply chain growth and not thinking carefully enough about each meeting and the way it might be able to shape our cities. When I talk with people outside our industry, they are astounded by the impact we have on Sydney.
“Your organisation needs to be engaged in the thought leadership of your city. A couple of my board positions help me shape what we do here in terms of contributing to the future of our city. I’m involved in a thought leadership think tank called the Committee for Sydney, and the advisory board at the University of Technology Sydney Business School.
“If we go back six years, when we had the opportunity to reshape Darling Harbor in Sydney, the NSW Government was developing this amazing new harbourside financial services district, and the State’s Premier at the time said, ‘We want to be the financial services destination in the Asia Pacific’. Taking that lead, I said, ‘Well, what is the biggest financial services event in the world where we can have that vision realised and bring people here to showcase what we are doing?’ That was SIBOS.
“We hosted SIBOS in 2018. Winning and hosting SIBOS was a remarkable way to showcase our state-of-the-art new International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) to the world’s financial services sector. Additionally, securing that major anchor event was the catalyst for us to attract a raft of other sectors and professions who put their faith in us, the government and the partnership building that new centre, by showing that we could deliver,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith.
“With an eye on the future, there is so much development going on in Sydney right now. We have a new airport being built from the ground up by 2026, and a whole new smart city being developed around it. This is one of three new precincts the NSW Government is developing in Sydney to drive future growth in the industry sectors and research fields our country excels in.
“We look at how our work can contribute. What are the best conferences in the world around logistics and infrastructure? What about waste and water technology, urban design, architecture? It’s also an agriculture area with lots of global research leadership, so we look at the top conferences in that space – anything that can help our city reach its global potential as it grows.
Careful consideration is being made as the architecture of this new city develops, with a real focus on medical sciences, med-tech and the likes of defence, tourism, agritech and education.
“To do all that, think of everything involved in building a city, we need people. We have got universities looking at a STEM Institute in a decentralised model,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith.
“All of these new precincts, industry and academia need talent, the world’s best, to help us grow our city. Again, the global meetings that Business Events Sydney attracts bring talent to Australia.
“As well as our own team of experts, we also reach out to our ambassador network – such an incredible soft power asset for our business. They are incredibly important in selling the business and innovation story to the world and helping us secure a broad range of meetings in their world. They help us create a real business brand presence for Australia.
“People outside our industry are so surprised at how future-focused we are. It’s normal for us to be pitching for events and making sure we’re getting an understanding of what the delegates’ experience will look like in the five, ten, fifteen years ahead. It is an interesting concept to sell to governments and corporates sometimes.
“We don’t lose sight of our tourism roots though. With our tourism partners and city leaders, we look at the customer journey from the airport to the hotel and the event venues. We look at the cultural institutions. We question if there is more that can be done to ensure the tourism experience is the best in the world.
“Then there are cultural considerations. Our APAC location is a key factor in attracting events on rotation. Asia is a huge market for Australia with 1.4 million visitors from China each year alone. Sydney, as a major gateway to Australia, has to be ready for future growth from that market, and the other diverse cultures across Asia that are right on Australia’s doorstep.”
“Our politicians have been listening. There is an opportunity for growth given the agenda I’ve just mapped out, and we work hard to make sure that we keep bringing results, and sharing them at every opportunity,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith.
“We are so lucky that our state tourism minister also has the portfolios of jobs, investment and Sydney’s new city, so we can discuss our contribution across all of his portfolios – it’s a much broader conversation. Some in government see our role clearly as a cog in the engine room of the state economy. But for others, it’s much harder to see how they can leverage business meetings for their portfolios. They’re not dissimilar to our clients. We look at their needs in developing our pitch, and we adjust our messaging for government in exactly the same way. It is about changing the language.
“Since we began our research collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) ten years ago, looking into the ‘beyond tourism’ benefits of business events, it is much easier conversation for me to have and introduce meaning to our government stakeholders. We can now talk in their language.
“All that said, my whole organisation knows the importance and value of the tourism supply chain. We have such strong expertise in Sydney and a great range of products and experiences. We have a very strong sustainability agenda with the local city government driving a major agenda there, showing real leadership for several years now.
“We evolved significantly a few years ago to step away from being the traditional Destination Marketing Organisation and into the realms of a professional services culture. We did a lot of work in scoping the cultures of organisations we wanted to operate like – Deloitte, KPMG, Social Ventures Australia to name a few. We needed to get the balance between the private sector, the not-for-profit sector and the government sector right. We changed structure, capability and competencies, and we have slowly recruited accordingly. We have a really high performing team and the best systems in place to support them.”
“The next challenge involves us meeting the goals of our three-year plan in both customer-centric focus and digital-first focus. Internally, we’ve got the systems up and running, but externally, for our customers, we want to develop tools that are really going to create and add value for them.
“That piece of work saw me travel to Silicon Valley to learn how start-ups approach their funding, innovation, growth and partnerships and how we might take the lead on new technology that’s going to add value to the business event client.”
“Change is constant in every industry now. People and partnerships, and business and service innovation are the keys to leading on the wave, not letting it wash over you,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith.
Lyn Lewis-Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of Business Events Sydney, the organisation tasked with securing international business events for Sydney to deliver economic, strategic and social benefits for Australia and global communities.