Destination Planning and Event Tourism in Australia: What to Expect Post COVID
COVID-19 has had a deep impact on the events industry, tourism and tourist destinations in Australia. Regional communities hoping to attract tourist dollars through developing and hosting local events in 2020 through 2021 have taken a particularly big hit.
What does the future hold for tourism in these communities, and how can they use destination planning to stimulate their post-COVID recovery?
In March 2020 I attended an inspiring conference, just as the pandemic began. The limit on indoor gatherings was announced at 100 people, half-way through the event.
The conference was the Local Government NSW Tourism Conference 2020, where I was introduced to a passionate group of individuals who were already deeply concerned about their local communities, before the pandemic was even properly underway.
As the drought, fires and floods dissipated in most rural areas at the beginning of 2020, losses to the regional tourism industry were already at estimates of AU$4.6 billion.
To support these communities in getting back on their feet, there were pledges made through state tourism bodies by organisations to hold their events in rural areas affected by these natural disasters.
However, business events planned through this initiative were soon postponed, as COVID-19 restrictions hit the events, hospitality and tourism industries.
COVID effect on the tourism and event industry in Australia
Coronavirus and the resultant border closures and lockdowns during 2020 and 2021 disproportionately impacted the tourism, events and hospitality industry in Australia.
Accommodation and hospitality workers experienced the highest national rate of ongoing job losses, down 64,000 into November 2020. Staffing losses within the events industry are estimated to reach over 92,000 between the end of 2019 and 30 June 2020. The September 2020 quarter saw the lowest number of tourism jobs since 2013, down 15% from the previous year.
Domestic overnight visits to capital cities fell by 78% in the June quarter 2020 compared with June 2019. However, occupancy rates showed signs of recovery once initial lockdowns were eased.
Visitor spend was down significantly across a number of entertainment and events industries in the June 2020 quarter. This included: convention and conference fees (down 99%), organised tours (down 98%) and live entertainment (down 97%). The business events industry alone has taken an estimated hit of AUD$35.7 billion.
Destination planning in 2021 and beyond
In my capacity as a learning facilitator at Torrens University Australia, I cover topics in my courses such as ‘The Future of Business Events;’ topics which inevitably in 2021 have to encompass COVID economic recovery strategies.
My role together with fellow panellists at the conference in 2020 was to deliver knowledge through our expertise on the topic ‘capitalising on business events.’ We were there to engage representatives of local governments in a discussion on how they can attract business events to their destination.
Events in general, and business events specifically play a significant role in destination planning, which itself is an essential tool in the development of regional economies.
The data suggests that despite COVID, pent-up domestic demand for tourism has remained strong during the past year. Research from Tourism Research Australia shows that as soon as mobility restrictions were eased, there was immediate interest in inter and intra-state bookings for accommodation and flights. International arrivals for tourism, business events and conferences may take a further 12-18 months.
I strongly believe that over the coming year, destinations need to focus on how they will be able to attract growth in the event economy as soon as the market reopens.
The event industry has been growing at around 6% annually since 2014 in Australia. In 2019 it directly generated over AU$35bn in economic activity and employed over 229,000 people. There is a huge potential for regional communities to benefit from this high-growth economy in the coming years, if they approach it strategically.
Destination planning in regional Australia
I believe that there is an urgent need for regional Australia to adopt an audit mentality to identify what they have and what they need. It is critical for destinations to identify how their infrastructure can be improved to best attract tourism and business events into their destination.
Destinations first need to know what assets and capability they already have, what services exist to deliver events, and what audience their services best suit.
I recommend that regional destinations and local governments take a step-by-step approach to destination planning, focused around business events:
- Identify who their ‘visitor economy’ audience is
- Identify what business events they would like to attract
- Identify where the resources are within the community they can use to deliver
- Assess how they’re going to achieve the outcome they want
- Then they can apply for government infrastructure funding
As a start, local governments should ask for expert assistance to work their way through a planned approach, i.e:
- Identifying what business event related stakeholders’ products and services exist
- Identifying areas for development where they should focus their attention
- Collating the results and prioritising the planning
- Deciding what is the best way to implement infrastructure development
- Research, prioritise, review, reconsider, propose, act
Help is on the way
The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), together with the Federal Government, co-developed a COVID-19 Business Events Response and Recovery Framework. “The business events industry warrants government recognition as a critical catalyst for the business-led, post-pandemic recovery of the Australian economy.” (BECA 2021).
The framework outlines a Recovery and Rebound phase for the Business Events industry, with key challenges, recommendations and solutions to guide the development of a targeted industry support package. In addition, we welcome an international trend with government-backed insurance schemes to protect live events. (BBC News 2021). In a Future Confidence Report survey conducted by BECA in March 2021 the top three challenges in business confidence and future business expectations are 1) uncertainty of domestic internal borders, 2) uncertainty of hard lockdowns and 3) client confidence.
For a successful take-up of business events in Australia we need to be prepared, and for a good part the work of BECA and its industry partners are working strongly to achieve this aim.