BECA chair urges targeted government support for events industry at Senate Committee hearing

The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) has called for targeted government support to build confidence and create momentum for in-person business events.

Dr Vanessa Findlay, chair of BECA, and Andrew Hiebl, CEO of the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, appeared before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 to reinforce the case for ongoing support for Australia’s $35.7 billion business events industry.

“We are continuing to work with government in line with the recovery and rebound framework for the business events industry to drive industry-specific support packages that will regain business confidence and drive momentum to see the return of business events,” Findlay said.

To overcome border restrictions that currently impede on the recovery of the industry, BECA’s COVID-safe guidelines differentiate business events from mass gatherings and introduces measures that enable business events to occur in COVID-safe environments.

These guidelines aim to provide confidence for the states and territories to lift restrictions, which will see the industry rebound, boost the whole visitor economy and restart the transfer of knowledge across all industries.

BECA is also working with federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, the Treasury Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit, the National COVID-19 Commission and the insurance industry to resolve the insurance issues that are undermining confidence in planning events.

“We haven’t been able to gain clarity from the insurance industry that an event that is cancelled as a result of a pandemic is actually covered,” Findlay said.

“And, of course, that severely undermines the confidence of people to book an event and know that, if it’s cancelled as a result of government restrictions, they can cover costs.”

JobKeeper continues to be a vital lifeline for the business events industry, with job losses predicted to exceed 90,000 before the wage subsidy scheme was introduced.

It is now estimated that around 110,000 employees across the industry are being supported by JobKeeper which is supporting 96 per cent of businesses to retain their employees.

“While enquiry levels remain relatively high, risk of future lockdowns and restrictions imposed on business events by states and territories hit confidence and make it extremely difficult for organisers to sign supplier agreements and pay deposits,” Hiebl said during the hearing.

“In addition, our industry has invested time and effort to develop COVID-safe plans, but in many jurisdictions, are not able to enact them.”

Dr Findlay concluded her evidence to the Committee by outlining a program that is under development “for business events industry businesses to provide a level of support that they need about making decisions around sustainability and viability into the future”.

“We have now faced, close to zero revenue for six months. While it might be reasonable to expect a business to look after itself for that period of time, anything beyond that is now very serious danger territory for every business in our industry.”