Yet again the exhibition and event industry has been left wondering what they have to do to get recognition and any kind of acknowledgement from governments, both state and federal!
Whilst tourism has come out fighting and beating the drum again, the exhibition industry needs to beat louder and harder as a sector for multiple reasons, as there is no hope of a silver bullet. We can fix ourselves to a large extent, but not without silly barriers being removed.
As a sector who employs 229,000 people, connects 43.7 Million people, used to deliver 484,000 business events a year and is worth 35.7 Billion in direct contribution and provides a marketplace with iconic consumer shows like Oz Comic Con, craft, boat, food and home shows to name a few, through to top line trade events covering medical, Gift, jewellery, technology and energy, are all suffering to various degrees and the long term success is in question.
Overlay this with purpose built centres, sitting on some of the richest land in capital cities, not being maximized. The exhibition and event sector has been left floating with no clear vision being shared.
A summary of the issues:
>Certainty – we have consistently called on certainty around borders remaining open. It seems misunderstood by state governments the impact of short lockdowns in that state. It’s the ramification and quarantining enforced by the other states that are cruel for the exhibition and event industry. This year based on one or two cases, in three separate States, at three separate occasions, has had devastating impacts. This has not received the exposure it should for the impact it has delivered to our sector. Confidence is a must to have the ground foundations to regrow and rebound.
>Staff resources – A big challenge is staff. Due to the uncertainty of the industry and the fact most couldn’t afford to keep staff on, the issue now is finding staff to lay carpet, carpenters, electricians, catering, cleaners etc. A lot of these sorts of tradespeople have found better paying jobs that are Monday to Friday with weekends off. The event industry doesn’t have weekends off, early starts, late nights and average pay! The additional impact overlaid with the lack of international staff that used to be used as short term and casual staff has made events difficult to staff. This will eventually impact the service levels we can deliver along with the commercial impact around increasing costs to deliver.
>Venue accessibility – Some states have taken over purpose built exhibition and event facilities to provide vaccine centres. Most of these facilities are in city centres where state governments, and particularly Victoria, have spent 12 months communicating to consumers and businesses not to enter the city!
There are a huge number of empty buildings that could have been activated. NSW proved that by taking over a building in Sydney Olympic Park in around 24 days, provided a purpose built vaccine centre which has no impact on the industry. Victoria has taken over fully the Royal Exhibition Building (REB) space, parts of the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre (MCEC) and the Melbourne Showground! There are numerous buildings unoccupied that could have been used and would have helped their struggling owners. The use of centres is only serving to further destroy and impact on an industry desperate to resume some normality.
>Grants – Whilst federal and various state governments have started to roll out grants, these are a waste if we can’t run shows! A classic example is Victoria and the Royal Exhibition Building. Any show that has the state grant on current tracking won’t be collecting it, so it’s a safe offer for them to look like they are doing something, knowing they won’t ever be cashed in. This also then ties to the Federal Government’s exhibitor program, where exhibitors have been approved for various shows, and using the same REB example, they won’t use it. If it’s going to be paid out, more time is now needed to recoup it!
>Slow rebuild – The industry will take at least until 2023 to return to some normality, and whilst I may hope it will be back next year, it is going to be a slow build. People are “Zoomed out” and want live events, but in some sectors it will be a slow return.
Whilst it is predicted attendance will be better than we thought last year, the exhibitor take up is down 20-30% and without venues and services being able to drop pricing because they have their own pressures, the viability of some events is in question.
Product supply from overseas is now an issue for some exhibiting companies as they just don’t have stock. So, no matter what we do as an industry, it will be slow for some to return for some shows/sectors and some are struggling to deliver content on show floors.
>More industry association representation – It is evident the industry associations have no voice as they don’t want to cross the hand that feeds them. The Victorian issue around vaccines underlies that the association can’t distinguish itself away from sponsorship and, having a venue rep on the board, makes them conflicted.
Venues remain silent as they are part owned by the government so have no voice other than wanting to say various claims of normality whilst having no real appreciation to the damage within the broader industry! Other associations which are national are partly funded by the government so why take on the cause and risk funding? This has given rise to a new alliance of businesses, especially independent family-owned businesses, as they have skin in the game, unlike many who are connected to associations who are employees.
>Government support – Whilst the exhibition sector received no support from the Federal Government budget and we understand how many are holding their hands. The Federal Government needs to look differently around things like tax breaks, reform in tax for our sector that allows us to keep what cash we have to re-invest and rebuild. Surely state and federal governments can look at smart ways to take pressure off that isn’t a hand out?
>Mental well-being of the sector – For some in the industry, they have suffered personal relationship breakdowns, have had to relocate factories/offices, refinance personally and their businesses as they are about to lose their homes.
Many are mentally exhausted and just want to help relieve the pain. This is just by addressing the continuity to run their business. They have all dealt with it differently but, for some, help may come far too late.
>We need to change – As a sector impacted far greater than any other (and still the most impacted on an ongoing basis), we need to create change and opportunities, of which there are many.
What we need from the State and Federal Government is an ability to run our businesses without the above being impairments. We can create change with some certainty and we call on all to establish dedicated events departments, as they have done with Tourism, in order to understand the sector and allow us to service and regrow the sector that connects businesses and people.