The amalgamation has been announced of AACB, EEAA and the ACCG into the Australian Business Events Association.
The current peak body, BECA, described Business Events as generally made up of meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.
This new organisation is essentially made up of representatives of convention bureaux, convention and exhibition centres and expo organisers. PCOs and Incentive associations have not joined them.
The key association representing PCOs is the PCOA (Professional Conference Organisers Association).
In Australia, incentive organisers are represented through the Australian & New Zealand chapter of SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence).
MEA (which started life as an association for PCOs) have made clear that they represent the event industry – not just business events.
So where to for ABEA, PCOA and MEA?
It makes sense for PCOA to amalgamate with the new organisation, however the PCOA is not a member association like MEA, AACB and EEAA. PCOA is more like a private club that you get to join (it doesn’t have a board elected by members).
First to ABEA
BECA is being wound up to be replaced by ABEA. It will be interesting to see how ABEA will then function as a lobbyist.
One of the shortcomings of BECA during COVID was that its focus was on the federal government while the important decisions affecting all event sectors were being taken at the state level. NB this is not a criticism of BECA – it was set up to be a peak body representing Business Events to the Federal Government and that is exactly what it did.
The challenge for the broader event industry is how to now find a way to lobby state governments (and not just NSW and Victoria). A current example is the proposed AFL stadium in Hobart. Which body is going to lobby the Tasmanian government on behalf of the event industry to ensure the stadium meets the needs on more than just the AFL? – such as meeting and conferencing facilities, function spaces for dinners and other events, music concerts, etc. A business events organisation would only be interested a limited number of those facilities, so would a state based events organisation (or a state chapter of a national organisation) be better placed?
At this stage it looks like the ABEA will just be representing those involved in conferences and expos taking place in Convention and Exhibition Centres.
Certainly there was a challenge for a new organisation to fully represent the entire event industry – that would have meant getting organisations such as the Australian Festival Association on board as well.
What are not Business Events?
The Events Industry however is much bigger and includes corporate events such as business and association meetings and social functions, awards functions, graduations, ceremonies, major events, weddings and other private events, arts and music festivals and much more.
Corporate and business functions are definitely “business events” or to go back to a term that was used some years ago “business theatre” but they don’t fit into what BECA describes as Business Events.
So maybe we should be referring to these other events as Special Events or Live Events.
These events are produced, organised and run by professional event managers along with (more and more) in-house event managers.
Events are serviced across the board by suppliers such as event technology companies, caterers, hardware hire, cleaners, security, transport, entertainers, photographers and videographers, florists, the list goes on.
Business Events Australia is an arm of Tourism Australia, maybe they should also have an arm called Special Events Australia to represent and promote the rest of the event industry. Although to be fair they do promote major events such as the Melbourne GP, Vivid Sydney and many more, obviously to tie in incentives and conferences (business events) to those events.
Now to MEA
MEA have put out a statement about why the organisation declined the offer to join the new combined organisation.
As pointed out in the MEA release “Our members are involved in delivering and enabling conferences, exhibitions, meetings, festivals, community, government, education, entertainment, social, personal, sporting and global events to name just some.”
It is interesting when it comes to the MEA Awards programme, where 20 years ago they were dominated by awards for Meetings and PCOs, the current categories are for Events, Event Management, Event Products and Services, Event Venues.
So maybe the way forward for MEA is to drop the “meetings” moniker and focus on the broader event industry. The association used to be called Meetings Industry Association of Australia and was formed out of the Association of Conference Executives, so to drop “meetings” is just evolution.
Maybe a rebrand as the Australian Event Association, or even Special Events Australia, to differentiate from Business Events, and really push to represent that broader industry.
Around 10 to 20 years ago the MEA conferences were an absolute must attend event. They were dynamic, engaging (and exhausting). One of the important elements of the MEA conference was the pre-conference meetings for Special Interest Groups (PCOs, Venues, AV, etc) and for the state committee members to all get together. I look forward to a revitalised MEA getting its conference mojo back.
Many years ago MEA introduced an accreditation system for PCOs, Event Managers and Event Professionals, new accreditations were acknowledged at the national conference – unfortunately there is nothing about accreditation on the current website.
To fully take the place of representing the broader events sector MEA would need to be well resourced. MEA already has a state committee structure in place, which, with support from a strong head office, could take on the role of lobbying their state governments (think ahead to the next crisis – whatever it might be). I understand membership has dropped over the past few years so this would require a major membership drive and commitment from member companies to support the association.
And then there are the suppliers
Putting aside event management companies, the major suppliers to the event industry are venues, catering, event technology, ticketing and event hires (yes there are many more) who are specifically geared up for the event industry (business and non-business events), and then there is accommodation and transport which provides to the broader tourism market as well. They all need a voice and a dynamic association to represent them.
If we could get down to two or three major organisations then those suppliers would only have to belong to them instead of up to about six at the moment.
These are just my musings – your comments are most welcome.