To celebrate International Women’s Day, Annika Hofsink, Marketing and Communications Executive, AACB caught up with a few of the female executives in convention bureaux across the country.
They shared their career journey, what they love about the job, triumphs, challenges and advice for anyone pursuing a career in the industry.
These leaders are strong pioneers in the business events industry who show an undeniable passion for their destination and Australia as a business events destination.
In an industry that’s dominated by women, Australia is still paving the way in terms of female leaders in destination marketing organisations worldwide, a fact worth celebrating.
Anna Case, Director, Gold Coast Business Events
Anna has had extensive experience in both business events and leisure tourism, having previously worked with Tourism Australia and Hong Kong Tourism Board. She has also successfully established meeting and event specialist businesses in the US and Australia. As a destination specialist, she has worked with international tourist boards including Britain, Canada, Cannes CVB, Beverly Hills CVB and the State Tourism Boards of Australia. Anna is currently the chair of the Australian Committee of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Deputy Chair and Committee Member of the Asia Pacific Chapter of ICCA and a Director of the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA).
Anna’s experience in the industry spans over 30 years, although she is the first one to say she is still learning at every available opportunity. Her passion for the industry is obvious, and something she engenders in her team of 12 as Director of Global Business Events at Destination Gold Coast. Anna recommends a healthy combination of focus and fun to achieve results, with a strong commitment to making the role your own and developing it over time.
Anna’s favourite part of her job, she says is “being able to combine a passion for the Gold Coast, with the love of working and connecting with people, to be able to influence decisions around business events. It’s also so creative and varied, no day is ever the same.”
Reflecting on her greatest achievement, Anna recalls being involved in the bid for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, due to commence in a couple of weeks. “Joining the team at the bid election in St Kitts in 2011 was a career highlight for me.” Anna’s passion for the city and significance of this global event has continued, as she now continues to work with the CGA – Commonwealth Games Australia – to plan and deliver the official Team Reception on 2 April, which is the announcement of the Australian Flag bearer at the opening ceremony.
Juliet Alabaster, General Manager, Brisbane Convention Bureau
Juliet started in the Convention Bureau at Brisbane Marketing in 2009 on a three-month contract in sales support. Soon after, a permanent project manager role within the Bureau opened-up. Since then, Juliet has managed all areas of the Bureau in different capacities, before taking on the role of General Manager last year. As she puts it, “from little things big things grow”.
What she loves most about her job? “The people and the purpose. The Bureau, as well as the broader Brisbane Marketing team, are all striving to create a more prosperous Brisbane for this generation as well as those to come. What better motivation than knowing that the work you are doing will bring prosperity to the city where your children are growing up.”
When we asked Juliet what her greatest achievement was in her bureau career so far, she referenced the AACB Staff Scholarship. “Successfully applying for the AACB Staff Scholarship in 2009 created a significant step change in my career. Being able to visit Travel Portland in Oregon and experience best practice destination marketing first-hand was invaluable for my career in business events.”
“Variety is the spice of life” is Juliet’s advice for anything starting out their career in the business events industry. “Seek out opportunities to expand your experience as this will greatly enhance what you can offer, both professionally and personally. Over the course of my career I have worked for various hospitality venues, a wedding coordination company, a PCO and now a Convention Bureau. Having been on both sides of the tourism industry fence has brought invaluable perspective to my work.”
Karen Bolinger, CEO, Melbourne Convention Bureau
Karen has always been in the business of hospitality, starting her career in hotel operations. She later found her passion in sales, undertaking a marketing degree at university. Following her degree, she spent 7 years at the Sydney Convention Bureau before briefly moving back into the supplier side. Prior to commencing her role as CEO at the Melbourne Convention Bureau in 2011, Karen was the General Manager of Strategy and Marketing at the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.
Her greatest achievement? Karen says it’s her team and the connection they’ve made with their local community. “There have been lots of bid wins and firsts but the fact that I have a strong, passionate, smart group of people who support each other is something I’m proud of; along with the connection we’ve made back to our local community who support us in bids. We really are TEAM Melbourne.”
Karen says that the variety and unexpected things she gets to do daily are what she loves most about her job. “I get to meet some amazing people who are “Rock Stars” in their areas of speciality on a global level, and we get to take them on a journey to deliver their association’s objectives and have a sense of purpose via their conference. I say we’re the lucky ones helping them realise some significant changes to things that matter and will possibly change our lives. We play small part but a meaningful one.”
Her advice to those starting out: “Get some good basic understanding of how the industry works so you can connect the dots. Be prepared to think big on behalf of a city/destination, have strong partner skills and be able to interact with government at various levels and your members/partners. Ensure you are prepared to travel and work outside of regular work hours and sometimes long days. Enjoy the networks you build globally across many sectors. The business events industry is like a village community and being part of it means some work and commitment.”
Liz Bendeich, General Manager, Canberra Convention Bureau
After studying Hotel Management, Liz began her career working for venues in Brisbane. During that time, she made a concerted effort to learn as much as she could about every aspect of hotel management. In 2000, Liz relocated to Canberra, joining the National Convention Centre to manage their Events Team. Following a rewarding 15 years in venues, she decided to make the change to the Convention Bureau world.
Liz has been working for the Canberra Convention Bureau for over a decade now and has worn many hats during this time, including research, membership and business development. As GM, she manages the day to day operations of the Bureau, overseeing the bidding and membership teams.
When we asked her what she loves most about her job she said, “I love working with a passionate and dedicated team who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I’m also lucky enough to be representing an amazing city that I’m crazy about. Canberra is one of Australia’s best kept secrets and with new and exciting developments on the horizon is definitely the place to watch in 2018!”
Liz says that the business events industry is dynamic and ever-evolving, meaning a career of constant challenges. “I find that I’m continually learning and having to adapt my leadership style to suit ever-changing people, resources and products.”
Malu Barrios and Robyn Hendry come to Liz’s mind when thinking about key mentors in her career and life. “Both are amazing women who have left a lasting impression of the way I conduct myself both personally and professionally.”
Her advice for anyone pursuing a career in business events? “Be open minded and flexible. Never be afraid to put your hand up for a new opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills. Always remain relevant and keep up to date with industry news and trends.”
Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO, Business Events Sydney
Lyn joined the tourism industry over 20 years ago, coming from a diverse background in financial services, resource management, transport and logistics. After establishing the Australian Institute of Sport/Thredbo Alpine Training Centre in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics, she made the move to business events in 2000, joining the Christchurch Convention Bureau as General Manager. In 2003, Lyn was asked to join the Sydney Bureau, jumping at the opportunity to return to the city she loves, first starting out as Director of Sales, then becoming CEO in 2012.
When we asked Lyn what attracted her to the business events industry, she said, “the opportunity to help create genuine change – and it’s still what gets me out of bed every morning.”
“We know that business events often lead directly to breakthroughs and collaborations that change the face of health, science and society. I feel very privileged to be able to help secure these events for Australia, and work with some genuinely inspirational people in doing so.”
Lyn acknowledges the role that mentoring has played in her career. “I’m always grateful for the opportunity to pass on some of that wisdom, along with my own passion and enthusiasm for what we do, to other aspiring leaders within our industry.”
“Shifting the perception of business events and demonstrating their real value”, Lyn says has been the biggest challenge in her career so far, explaining how they are often misunderstood as nothing more than tourism. “The reality is they drive trade and investment and create long-term social and economic change.”
“Of course, this hasn’t just been my challenge – it’s one we have shared as an industry. But it has been close to my heart for many years, and I feel I’ve made a real contribution towards tackling it – as CEO of BESydney, Past President and board member of AACB, and in my wider engagement across government, academia, non-profits and the private sector.”
“There is always more to do, but I think everyone in this industry can take a lot of credit for how far we have come and it’s something I am personally very proud of.”
Her advice to anyone looking to build a career in the industry is to embrace change. “Never be afraid to challenge the status quo, and always look for opportunities to transform the businesses you work with.”
“Business events are constantly evolving, due to new technologies, higher delegate expectations, and a greater focus on generating long-term legacies. That creates challenges, but also fantastic opportunities to inject new ideas and innovative approaches to winning and delivering events.”
Rebecca McCaig, Manager, Trade and Market Engagement, NT Convention Bureau
Rebecca has an extensive background is in hotels and catering, spanning a number of groups and continents, forming an 18-year career to date. When she was afforded the opportunity to live in Darwin in late 2000’s, she was offered a contract opportunity with NT Convention Bureau to research the industry strengths of the destination that would underpin a new business events strategy. To this day, that critical piece of research has shaped and influenced her capacity to create compelling business reasons that encourage organisations to consider the Northern Territory as a location to host their events.
When we asked her what her greatest achievement has been, Rebecca recalls winning the AACB Staff Scholarship in 2012/13. “I am still optimistic about finding the capacity to implement learnings from my experience in Boston to make a significant change to the way organisations engage and impact the communities in which they stage their business events.
“I’m also proud of establishing our annual NT Health famil program which is now in its 8th year. Content for the program was developed from the extensive research undertaken in my initial contract role with NTCB and focussed on delivering meaningful outcomes not only for attendees considering the NT for their organisation’s business events but also our local health sector.”
Rebecca says there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing the immense change in the planners’ perception of NT once they’ve attended one of their famils. “I am blessed to be in a position where I can connect people with a destination that surprises in every possible way, and then some. I especially love introducing the Territory to planners during our incredible famil programs – there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing the immense change in a planner’s perception once they’ve experienced the NT and hearing that they can’t wait to come back with their event (we also do our bit for population growth with some clients having such a positively profound experience, they permanently move to the NT!).”
Her advice to those pursuing a career in the industry? “Make sure you look beyond the economic benefits a business event brings to a destination and readily embrace the opportunities to make a social impact to your destination as well.”
Rosie Douglas, Director of Business & Tourism Events, Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef
Rosie has been working for Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef since 2010, before which she was working the Director of Sales at Visions Hotels and Resorts for 5 years. She has a comprehensive background in hotel management, particularly in the areas of food & beverage, HR management, sales and event management. Rosie was also part of the opening team at the Cairns Convention Centre, working in HR and event management.
Her greatest achievement to date? She recalls getting Amway China over the line in 2017 for their 2019 leadership program. “We missed out the first time we bid for it and were then able to learn from the experience and go back the following year with a much tighter proposal which they accepted. The other one that comes a close second is to have staff that I’ve been able to mentor who have gone on to do some amazing things.”
“The diversity of the industry”, Rosie says is what keeps her motivated and interested. “There are always new challenges and opportunities, and I love the fact that we are part of a global industry.”
Her advice to anyone starting out in the industry is “to get as much experience as possible (on both the supplier and buyer side) and remain loyal to your employers. You also need to be empathetic – often clients may be difficult, but you need to remember they are also working for people who, in some cases, have high expectations.”