I have been watching with interest over the past 12 months how New Zealand has been managing the COVID-19 pandemic and how those working in all areas of the business event sector have been navigating such a challenging period.
Like the New Zealand BE sector, we in Australia have been battling hard to keep everything moving forward; pivoting in some instances and, perhaps more than ever, being the voice of reason for many of our clients.
From a personal perspective, when we quickly understood the impact the pandemic was going to have on our business, I made a commitment to my team that we were all in this together and we would be sticking strong until we emerged on the other side. In between then and now we’ve done just that, at last count running seven fully virtual meetings, the largest of which was for 2,200 scientists and researchers working in the space sector (COSPAR) in late January 2021.
As was the case with past crises that have impacted our industry – our pilot’s strike, the GFC, the collapse of Ansett, and SARS – some businesses have been impacted harder than others.
Twelve months since COVID-19 reared its ugly head, I see green shoots starting to appear in Australia and New Zealand. And more than that, as a business owner and operator, I see great - possibly unprecedented - opportunities.
Much of this has been brought about by the very low COVID-19 infection rates both of our countries have. Part of this has been the efforts in managing outbreaks and limiting transmission and part is due to where we are situated in the world.
Who hasn’t hosted an international meeting and not heard a U.S. or European delegate or two telling you how far they have travelled and how many hours it has taken them to get here as if we have never set foot on a plane in our lives. Working in this business, travelling the world more than once a year for as long as I can remember – except for this year and last - I know too well where I live and how far away I am from a lot of places.
And, in times like these, I give thanks to the fact that I do.
Many Australian associations postponed their 2020 meetings in the hope that there would be a return to normal in 2021. The fact that hasn’t happened sees them now at a point where they have a genuine need for their members to share information collectively and, in many instances, turn the financial faucet that well organised meetings can bring back on.
And this is where I believe we have an opportunity.
Australian and New Zealand associations now have the ability to be the global hosts of meetings of their international affiliates. With the easing of indoor group gathering restrictions in both Australia and New Zealand, and now the opening of borders between our two countries, local associations could hold in-person meetings together with a virtual element for those who wish to attend from anywhere else in the world.
The positive about this is that not only is there a live meeting component but, as past studies have shown, when a country hosts an international meeting there are “beyond tourism benefits” than simply filling hotel beds. Hosting meetings exposes local expertise to a global audience which very regularly leads to new collaborations and greater investment in business, research and academia.
I also believe that New Zealand will be seeing a spike in high-end meetings and incentives from Australian corporates. There is talk that this may also occur in Australia as well but we are certainly limited in the amount of quality inventory we have beyond our cities. New Zealand’s five-star lodges and your top-end hotel resorts in destinations like Queenstown certainly put you in a strong position to attract these big-spending groups.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to say that I believe all meetings and events moving forward in our country, in New Zealand, and internationally, will never be seen on the same scale again unless we all embrace the medical expertise we have and all be vaccinated against this dreaded virus.
Challenges still remain for all of us but I say let’s take advantage of the situation we find ourselves in today.
And thank you Prime Minister Ardern for opening your borders. I’ve got a lot of places I want to visit in your beautiful country and I’m ready to go right now.
Story written by Emma Bowyer, pictured below.
ICMSA has 35 full-time staff in offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Managing Director and owner, Emma Bowyer, drives the strategic direction of the organisation, building the reputation and legacy of ICMS Australasia, which in 2021 celebrates 55 years of continuous operation.