Appointed executive general manager, commercial and Business Events Australia at Tourism Australia in July this year, Robin Mack hit the ground running just as the Delta wave sent parts of Australia into lockdown. In this Spice News exclusive, he tells AIME’s director of events, Silke Calder, about his first three months in the role and what’s on the horizon for business events in Australia.
Silke Calder: What a year to start this new position, you could not have picked a more challenging year to take the reins. What have your first three months in the role looked like?
Robin Mack: When I came into this role, I already had a high regard for Australia’s business events industry, but as I became more immersed in it, what has really impressed me is the resilience of the industry despite what has been an incredibly difficult time.
The recent lockdowns in some parts of Australia has had a significant impact on the business events industry. It’s become increasingly clear that the only way to move forward and get back to holding extraordinary events is to get vaccinated, which is why our recent focus at Tourism Australia includes launching the initiative, It’s Our Best Shot For Events. It aims to provide a platform to support the industry in encouraging vaccinations and in turn assist the restart of delayed business events.
In the meantime, we continue to drive demand in our international markets through our distribution development activity, including a mixture of virtual, hybrid and face-to-face engagement, such as having a presence at the upcoming IMEX America. We’re also doing this through our content marketing initiatives, such as our incentive magazine, Australia Next, that was distributed to key international markets this month and promoted across our trade media partner’s platforms.
SC: Over the next 12 months, what will be your biggest focus?
RM: Business events are a critical part of Australia’s visitor economy and play a key role in generating tourism activity, trade, investment, and employment opportunities. Prior to COVID-19, international business event visitors spent 23 per cent more, on average, than leisure visitors while in Australia so we are intensely focused on supporting industry and fast-tracking recovery to get the sector back on its feet as quickly as possible.
We’re preparing for various scenarios for the re-opening of international travel to Australia, including travel bubbles. This includes increasing our investment in conversion driving activity to capitalise on short to mid-term business when markets come back online. We’re positioning Australia for long term growth and making sure our prospective customers around the world know we’re open and ready to welcome delegates back to enjoy Australia’s exceptional destinations, world-class venues and unique experiences.
Already we are seeing business leads from our key international markets for 2022 and beyond, highlighting Australia’s desirability as a business events destination. This is also reflected in our recent international research, the Business Events Consumer Demand Project, which indicates that 79 per cent of association decision makers claim they are likely to visit Australia for an event in the next two years, while 69 per cent of incentive decision makers claim they are likely to visit Australia in the next two years – rising to 82 per cent in the next three years. It’s great to see such high intention to travel and the potential opportunities when international events are able to resume.
SC: What programs or initiatives are you most excited to introduce?
RM: We have a range of exciting marketing and content initiatives in the pipeline, including new additions to our Australia Innovates video series that shines the light on innovative Australians excelling in their field of expertise, the redevelopment of our global and China business events websites, and a new business events brand strategy that we’re working hard on behind the scenes in preparation for reopening.
This year, we also announced a further commitment to the Business Events Bid Fund Program with an additional $3 million to cover new pledges and bids for an additional 12 months through FY21/22.
I am pleased to see the continued success of the Business Events Bid Fund Program which helps to provide Australia with a competitive advantage when bidding to secure high-value international business events. Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the program continues to drive conversion for international business events.
Since the global pandemic started in 2020, the Business Events Bid Fund Program has supported 26 new events wins worth approximately $137 million, highlighting that Australia remains a highly desirable business events destination.
In addition, our Advance Program will focus on tailored and strategic partnerships with Australian industry who are actively leading the bidding for international business events.
These partnerships will help continue to keep Australia front of mind and ensure that Australia remains in the consideration set of business events decision makers and helps drive the conversion of new international business events.
SC: We have seen some big shifts in the industry and to be honest, a bit of a brain drain. What are your plans to support attracting talent and people back into tourism and events careers?
RM: While it is difficult to predict exactly what the business events and tourism recovery might look like, we know from industry feedback that there are concerns about keeping and attracting staff to the industry across a range of roles and skill sets.
Tourism Australia continues to support industry in nurturing talent and careers through sponsorships like the MEA Mentor program, AACB Staff Scholarship, and the EEAA Young Stars program. We will continue to work with industry to identify and understand the challenges and opportunities impacting the delivery of business events.
In addition, when we can, our efforts in attracting working holiday makers will recommence. This important cohort who help to support our hospitality sector, will also assist our industry in filling some of the gaps in the customer experience and delivery of business events.
SC: Over the past year we have seen a big focus on domestic markets, what are your plans for international markets and what regions will be your biggest priorities?
RM: We will continue to focus on the international markets which provide the greatest return on investment for Australia, which include the USA and the United Kingdom for both the incentive and association sectors, and China, New Zealand and South East Asia for the incentive sector.
Throughout the global pandemic, we have continued to inspire and engage with customers through our marketing and distribution activity to ensure we are optimally positioned for when travel resumes. As markets begin to open, we will begin to ramp up our activity including a PR, content and marketing push to drive awareness that Australia is ready to welcome back business events, and a familarisation program to bring qualified business events planners and media out to Australia to experience our offering first-hand.
SC: We have all adapted to online experiences, what is it about in-person events that you are excited to see return?
RM: I think it’s important to firstly note that while we have all adapted to online experiences, it’s not the same as the experience of face-to-face events, nor the preferred experience for an event where networking and team building might be a key part. From innovative ideas that come out of networking opportunities with colleagues at a conference, to aligning your team and increasing your bottom line through an incentive program, as an industry we understand the power that in-person events have which simply can’t be replicated at a virtual event.
What excites me most about the return of in-person events is the opportunity to welcome delegates back to Australia and showcase our unique offering. Our research shows we are a highly desirable destination known for our world-class beauty and natural environments; wide range of quality accommodation options; excellent business events facilities; clean cities and good road infrastructure; range of local attractions for optional activities; and an appealing climate. When you combine this with our warm and welcoming people, unique experiences, wide and open spaces, Australia is a business events destination that delivers beyond expectations.
SC: What are you looking forward to at AIME?
RM: We are excited to attend AIME in 2022. The event provides a platform for Australia’s business events industry to meet and do business with buyers, so I am really looking forward to our industry showcasing Australia’s exceptional offering, our can-do attitude, and why there’s nothing like Australia for business events.
SC: What are the top three destinations you can’t wait to visit when travel returns?
RM: When domestic borders open again, I can’t wait to explore more of our backyard. Visits to Uluru, the Whitsundays and a walking holiday in Tasmania are top of the list. When international borders open, we are looking forward to having our family and friends from the UK and Greece visiting us, as we know Australia is top of their list.
 IVS YE June 2019.