A Career in Business Event Planning in a Post-COVID Australia
The end of the pandemic may seem far away right now, but the events industry will reopen in the not-too-distant, post-COVID future. When it does, business event specialists will have an important role to play in Australia's economic growth.
In my role as a lecturer on the subject ‘Business Events in a Global Context’ at Torrens University, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of business event specialists.
This field of specialist event management expertise is not very widely known, despite the sector being a significant economic powerhouse.
In 2019, the business events sector directly contributed $35.7 billion to the Australian economy: that’s more than half the $60.8 billion in GDP generated by the entire tourism industry during the same financial year.
The sector was on a fast growth trajectory before the pandemic, and research indicates that it will get back on track when restrictions ease. The resurgent field of business events will once again have many interesting career options to offer ambitious event management graduates. Before we get into what a career as a business event specialist could look like in the near future, however, it’s worth taking note of a few essential details.
What is considered a business event and why are they important in the broader economy?
The business events sector encompasses a very diverse range of events that typically attract both domestic and international travellers to new destinations. These travellers spend on average twice as much per person as tourists who travel for leisure.
For example, this could include a congress, convention, conference, seminar, incentive, activation, product launch, trade show, AGM or EGM, corporate retreat, study tour or training program.
These events are an essential element in the delivery of corporate, association and government information and services. The demand for a business event is driven mainly by organisations who choose it as a forum to:
- communicate messages
- educate or train
- promote a product
- reward staff or celebrate achievements
- collaborate on issues and solutions
- or to generate resources.
According to the latest reports from the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA):
- 43.7 million people attended business events in Australia in the financial year 2019.
- The industry employed 229,000 people in 2019.
- Business events created an additional 49,000 Australian jobs during the period 2014-2019.
- The total GDP contribution of the sector has grown by 30% in the five years from 2014-2019.
- The number of business events in Australia increased from 412,000 in 2014 to approximately 484,000 in 2019.
As you can see, the business events sector in a regular year makes a significant contribution to the Australian economy.
Business events will require skilled specialists to manage everything from planning to logistics, as we emerge into a recovery economy.
Business events specialists: what they do and their role in the industry recovery
Business event specialists are a unique breed of event managers who work with a myriad of suppliers and clients in the planning and execution of an event. They work closely with the event concept owner to understand implicitly the raison d’être of the event and what key objectives need to be achieved.
They are a skilled set of individuals who typically have developed knowledge in the delivery of seamless events through studying event management courses, and through hands-on experience.
Business event planners are strategic thinkers, and not simply logistics managers. They exist as a pivotal link in the chain between the ultimate decision maker or owner of the event concept, and the final delivery of an event design.
A few examples of responsibilities involved in the role include:
- Designing recommendations for the strategic approach, policies, budget, and creative direction of new events
- Designing and implementing the digital experience of business events
- Managing communications and promotional materials for business events
- Developing approach and methods to evaluate and measure event success
- Influencing and negotiating with partners, suppliers and stakeholders
- Producing detailed proposals for events, including: timelines, venues, suppliers, legal obligations, staffing, and budgets
- Ensuring insurance, legal, health, and safety obligations are adhered to
- Advising on strategic management and developing extensive planning
- On-site, meticulous management of the event brief
No two events are ever exactly the same. Business event professionals must focus on the essentials and aim to deliver consistency between events. Wherever possible, they need to constantly improve the design and quality of goods and services in repeat events.
A business event manager must also measure the success of event delivery against objectives, KPI deliverables and a series of metrics to measure the return on investment [ROI].
In the new normal of post-COVID Australia, business event specialists will also need to be advisors on how to adapt each event to new regulations and minimise risks. This is a professional aptitude that has always existed, but one that becomes ever more essential during the recovery phase.
Beyond 2021: the regulated return of business events
Based on early data, we know that the hospitality and tourism industry will bounce back as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, and when travel, meetings, conferences and exhibitions recommence. The question remains how soon will this occur for domestic and international events. The indications are that conference venues will be able to begin having face to face client events as soon as the 70 – 80% community vaccination targets are met and health orders are issued. It is expected that the opening of venues for business events would be predicated on all venue and events staff being fully vaccinated.
The National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response outlines over four phases how vaccination rates will open up the industry.
The Federal Government and BECA have developed a COVID-19 Business Events Response and Recovery Framework, which aims to sustain and grow the business events industry as we re-emerge from the pandemic. There remain issues of industry survival, business confidence and event insurance, as well as a recovery stimulated through grants and support in 2022, which are on the table with Government.
At least there has been an acknowledgement from Government that there is a difference between uncontrolled mass gatherings and business events, which are organised and managed under strict COVID-safe processes and procedures.
What will a business event specialist role look like, post-COVID?
Business events specialists must be well versed in all COVID-safe measures as well as being trained and experienced event professionals. It behoves organisations to engage business event specialists at the first stage of planning a business event, as a part of a strategic approach in the post-COVID recovery phase. They need to value the knowledge the specialists bring in their awareness of the context in how the guidelines are applied in the hospitality and tourism market for business events.
A client’s objectives must be matched with a venue's ability to meet new guidelines. This uncharted context requires creative problem solving.
In this ‘new normal’ events environment there are additional skills that need to be developed, and new focuses that need to be brought to the attention of clients who are contemplating holding a business event.
Highly skilled business event specialists able to work within the new normal should be consulted on events at the early stage, to ensure the success of events in this uncertain landscape.