Dear Business Events Industry Professionals,
I am writing this letter as a concerned member of the Business Events Industry who continues to see an industry determined to keep professionalism at bay. I know many people have given a great deal of their time and effort but the recent failure by the industry to generate meaningful ongoing support post (and even during) the Covid-19 pandemic is highlighted by the apparent absolute lack of self-examination as to the reasons for this. It seems clear that the current structure of the industry associations headed by BECA is inappropriate and under-funded to provide meaningful representation in Canberra and elsewhere.
Sadly, the past year has confirmed what many in the industry have known in their heart of hearts for many years, that the Business Events industry has failed over the years to build a recognised industry sector respected by Government, consumers and indeed to a large extent its own members. So, my simple question is do you really want to continue to be represented by a highly fragmented mish-mash of small time organisations or do you really want to have an industry which is truly professional and respected at the highest level? The industry has many wonderfully skilled operators and experts who have to date been let down by, with all due respects, what appears to be in the main self-indulgent interests.
As a result the industry is now represented in Canberra by BECA (the Business Events Council of Australia) which has an annual budget of probably less than $100K and the teeth to match. Behind BECA is a membership (as per its own website) of:
MEA (Meetings and Events Australia)
PCOA (Professional Conference Organisation of Australia) – an organisation set-up with the right intentions at the time but the wrong structure leaving significant question-marks over its purpose and membership value
EEAA (Exhibitions and Events Australia Association) – an organisation focused on a small industry segment (Trade Shows) but which professes in its name to represent the whole events industry
AACB (Association of Australian Convention Bureaux) – representing a body of generally quasi-funded government entities possibly unwilling to “rock the boat”
ACCG (Australian Convention Centres Group) – does this organisation actually exist and who does it really represent?
ICCA Australia (International Convention and Congress Association) – a chapter which does not actually seem to exist on the ICCA website and which if it did to be fair represents a small coterie of “hand-picked” members
Is it therefore really surprising that this body has failed to deliver any meaningful support to its members’ members or the industry at large at a time when it would be hoped an organisation or alliance representing an industry of $30 Billion to the Australian economy should surely have achieved a lot more. For BECA to have agreed to a Business Events Grant scheme which totally missed the point is nothing short of embarrassing. Anyone could have seen that any support needed to go where the risk was – with the underwriters of the events, not the consumers.
So, what is the answer as we see new organisations springing up randomly to try to fill the gap BECA has failed in – for instance Save Victoria Events, Save NSW Events and the National Events Alliance? This is simply more fragmentation and understandable desperation. The simple answer is this is too little too late. What is needed is a truly representative organisation that is founded with the right purposes and the right structure to ensure it can actually deliver real value to its members and the industry as a whole. We simply as an industry cannot let the recent failures ever happen again or at least as a minimum ensure we are properly represented at the Head Table!
From my experience a membership community can only really provide member value if it delivers in one or more of the following areas:
- Credibility of members / membership – accreditation, codes of conduct etc.
- Creating business networks – for personal, business or common good
- Member information / education – recognised or casual continuous improvement
- Advocacy – utilising the “power of the pack” for mutual benefit
The Business Events industry requires organisations (ideally two types – one organisationally based and one individually based) that deliver in the following areas:
- Credibility – organisations that deliver a message to the outside world that this is an industry that can be trusted and respected. Currently, an industry that thrives on commissions, rebates and hidden mark-ups will never truly earn respect. Comprehensive codes of conduct with accountability would be a good starting point
- Business networks – the industry has many arms but all of which inter-link at times. Networking functions, conferences, trade shows and meet and greet opportunities are therefore vital to a successful community
- Education / information – too much time has been spent in this area where the returns are minimal. This is not a technical industry (as a general rule) requiring ongoing training which is already provided by universities, colleges and TAFE. Leave this to those who have the funds and skills to do it well
- Advocacy – one organisation that can represent the industry with one voice and represent the thousands of employees in the sector and the true value to the economy. I heard that at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic no one was actually able to say what the value of the business events industry actually is – that is not good enough
So, what is needed? Firstly, leadership focused on the industry as a whole to deliver value to the membership as a whole. Australia is too small and the industry too important to support a number of parochial self-interested organisations. Secondly, a clear definition of the purposes for such organisations to exist. Thirdly, a rigid business plan and strategy that is financially robust, properly resourced and has clear goals to achieve.
Recently there has been talk of funding BECA through an event levy. Surely, we need to get the structure and purposes sorted out first before coming up with random funding methods. The industry needs to be responsible for funding itself, not levying its customers. It does not matter how much money is in the kitty or where it comes from if the basics are wrong in the first place. Where for instance in BECA’s structure is the representation from travel and accommodation – surely somewhat important in the business events industry?
How can this be done?
Initially by getting the current members of BECA to agree on the need for ideally one representative financially robust organisation that advocates for the whole industry. This should be led by paying organisational members (companies or company-based associations) who elect qualified members to represent the industry nationally. Those that don’t want to be part of it can be left to fend for themselves. A new company limited by guarantee should be formed, a new constitution written, clear purposes should be defined and a board structure built that is truly represented by and representative of those who operate right across the business events industry without exception.
There will be space for associations who are there to look after the interests of the individuals for the purposes of networking, accreditation and credibility (eg PCO association) but there should only be one to look after the interests of the industry as a whole at advocacy level. One which is respected, representative and one which has teeth!
I believe the industry is ready for something like this. I know the industry needs something like this. The simple question is do we have the leadership and desire to make it happen?
Editor’s note: in the original post Mr Child made a statement about MEA that was incorrect and has since been removed. ASE apologises to MEA staff and board for the misrepresentation.