Events Industry Lessons From the GFC Will Be Critical in COVID-19 Recovery

Events-related businesses in Australia’s regional areas will be in for a MUCH tougher time than their metro cousins if what played out post GFC occurs again after COVID-19.

Back in the late 2000s during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and for a few years thereafter I sat on numerous national and state events industry Boards and Councils, such as Meetings & Events Australia and what was then called the International Special Events Society (now ILEA). This gave me a valuable and sometimes gut-wrenching understanding of how that global economic catastrophe affected private-sector businesses in this industry.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My company survived thanks to a multi-prong service approach. Yet like many events businesses, we took a big hit. However, survival was not as common as you might imagine.

An estimated 35 - 40% of events-related businesses closed their doors* for good in the immediate post-GFC period.

What those statistics did not reveal unless you dug deep was the locations that suffered the greatest closures – regional events businesses took the brunt of the hit.

There were two reasons why regional businesses took the biggest hit:

  1. Many national associations and corporates began alternating their annual business events, such as conferences and awards nights, between Sydney and Melbourne, with Brisbane or Adelaide sometimes included in the rotation. These cities were chosen because the hosts knew it was where they had the greatest probability of attracting the largest number of delegates and attendees.

  2. Special and sporting events also chose the big metropolitan cities, with organisers understanding that consumer confidence reflected business confidence and so most people would not travel away from their home to attend an event.

So many metropolitan events-related businesses suffered little^, while their regional counterparts paid the ultimate price for the GFC fallout.

I recall sitting in a National Council meeting in April 2010 the day before this particular organisation’s conference in Melbourne debating the issue with my fellow Council members. Most of them ran metro-based businesses and were doing nicely post-GFC. Consequently, they had no idea that sectors of the industry had been in dire straights and had shut. Furthermore, they refused to believe it until they were shown irrefutable proof of both the business closures and the strengthened metropolitan bias.

I am in no doubt that unless state governments step up to stop a re-enactment then the same thing will occur again post COVID.

What needs to happen now?

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”- philosopher George Santayana

The NSW Government recently announced the establishment of a new Department of Regional NSW. Hats off to this state government because this means regional NSW will now have extra resources and a dedicated team committed to ensuring its economy does not just survive, but thrive. That commitment, together with the NSW Regional Business Event Development Fund, will help keep events businesses in regional NSW afloat.

I implore other state governments to also learn from the past, recognise the real dangers facing their regional events industry and initiate similar support strategies to NSW – before it is too late.

And if you manage events on behalf of your organisation, then please consider extending the olive branch to your regional cousins and pledge to host at least one event in regional Australia as soon as possible.

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* This government and association data excluded hotel venues and was backed-up by first-hand accounts from industry colleagues. Of course, there were businesses that bucked the trend. For instance, the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre continued to thrill conference managers thanks to its relatively new status, stunning location, impeccable service and great offerings.

^ I’ve said “many” because some service providers, such as styling and limousine hire companies, saw a significant downturn despite being in Sydney or Melbourne as event hosts cut back on non-essential event spending.

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