While city events get the most notice, regional events are often ignored. However events are for more important to the regional towns and cities than they are in capitals. ASE reached out to Vanessa Briody Co-Director of Oregional Collective and a member of the Australian Regional Events Alliance for a take on how they are faring.
When and why AREA was formed?
The Australian Regional Events Alliance (AREA) was formed in 2020 via the voices of many event operators, seeking a port in the storm. From its humble beginnings and word of mouth origins, the alliance has grown and now provides a support network and advocacy channel for non-metro industry providers.
Inclusive of all types of regional events across the states and territories, AREA seeks to empower operators by bringing the sector together to work collaboratively on creative and sustainable solutions to the challenges regional events are experiencing during these times, and into the future.
What has been the effect of COVID on regional events?
The media talks about the effects of COVID-19 on the events industry, though more often than not, report on the cancellation devastation of major city events.
The hardships of a cancelled regional event do not typically make headline news, yet they can have a far greater impact than their metro counterparts. They too drive the visitor economy, showcase what a city, town or region has to offer, create employment opportunities, and generate social outcomes. Yet, regionally, events also have the power to be the driver for almost 60% of people to visit a destination for the first time, they build community resilience and pride, and can revitalise struggling towns. Driving destination brand equity, repeat visitation and having the ability to tap into the mindset of those looking for a sea or tree change is the icing on the cake.
Currently, regional events are hurting and feeling unheard, AREA wants regional events to be valued as a whole, this recognition is needed for recovery.
What are you working on to help the sector bounce back?
The goal posts for an industry “bounce-back” are constantly changing, AREA’s collective network of operators from across Australia, although fatigued, are keen to re-engage and discuss the future of the industry. AREA has re-embarked on fortnightly national industry chats to allow for strong outcomes and better representation for regional operators. These are being supported by snap surveys, which will help to package up and communicate the needs and ideas of the industry.
AREA sits beneath the Australian Regional Tourism umbrella that acknowledges the importance of regional events to the visitor economy and supports the need to be proactive in this space. AREA has developed a set of priorities aimed at building strong foundations for event sector recovery and industry sustainability. A volunteer working group, AREA team members work on projects under these priorities from strengthening the narrative around the impact of regional events to what a bespoke funding program could look like.
What does the light look like at the end of the tunnel, what government support have you received?
The COVID crisis of 2020/21 has been more a “survival of the fittest” scenario for regional event operators. Ultimately, regional events and their host destinations have so much more to lose. Many regional events could be described as the “life blood” of their communities and the knock-on effect from a failed execution can have catastrophic consequences.
However, there is a light at the end of our tunnel because the collective will demand it. The strength of what this light is, we are yet to tell, though the industry is working under a flicker right now and AREA was developed to shorten that tunnel and help the industry arrive at a healthier landscape as soon as possible.
While there are various support and advocacy groups formed to represent more specific areas that rely on events such as sport, live music and performing arts, the fundamental needs of them all during this time are much the same.
AREA supports the calls from BECA for a targeted approach towards recovery. Without the confidence to plan and deliver an event, that in this moment in time can only come with an insurance scheme, together with a well-constructed bespoke funding program, the sector will never be close to its former self. The industry is in survival mode and its workforce can no longer sit in this holding pattern, they need to be able to start planning to get back on the road, so when the green light says go, events can be rolled out and support the thousands upon thousands of businesses who rely upon them.
For details on AREA’s fortnightly events sector bounce back chats go to their Facebook page