The associations sector is evolving, eager to become the movers and shakers of tomorrow. This is how Melbourne is responding
Associations looking to Melbourne to host its meetings are looking for deeper levels of engagement with the destination, with indications of furthering its involvement beyond the city and into regional areas.
No longer content with basic tourism services, associations are now asking bureaus how they can leave an impressionable footprint long after the networking sessions are done and delegates have headed home.
“We (are continuing) to work with our clients on a much deeper level,” said Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO Julia Swanson. “The nature of the association market is changing and what clients want from convention bureaus is definitely evolving.”
Creating legacies is today’s buzzword and they can be social or economic. An example is the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in Melbourne in 2021, marking its return to the Southern Hemisphere after a 25 year hiatus.
“One of the things they’re trying to achieve is to build much more of a focus on women in transport, so we’re working with them on a number of different initiatives to build engagement from females in the conference,” said Swanson.
“There (could) be a ‘women in transport’ breakfast or education scholarships. We’re looking at how we can build and make that a much more inclusive area from a gender perspective. We see that as a very important focus as we build the public transport sector in Melbourne, but it also helps build that sector across Australia and globally,” she continued.
The MCB’s willingness to adapt to changing needs from associations seems to be serving the city well.
Among a record financial year of A$507 million (US$344 million) in secured business events, there were several “big wins” in the associations sector, including the World Rotary Conference which will bring some 20,000 people to Melbourne in 2023. What’s more, Swanson said that 80 per cent of association business is booked in Melbourne’s quieter winter months between April and September.
Growth in associations is also being echoed at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), which has seen a 29 per cent increase in number of events hosted and the number of attendees steadying, after relating to TTGassociations in 2018 of a flat sector with declining participant numbers in meetings. MCEC had hoped the addition of a A$200 million expansion would turn things around after it opened in July 2018, a
nd it appears their hopes were not misplaced.
“The expansion has provided us with a unique opportunity to cater for events of sizes that MCEC was not previously known for and has exceeded all expectations,” said MCEC’s director of sales, Darren Waite. “We have been inundated with interest … (With) customers seeing it as a seamless connection to the existing centre, we are receiving more interest in full buy-outs of the centre.”
It’s not just Melbourne city that benefits from increased bookings either. Swanson shared that associations are increasingly interested in engaging with pre- and post-travel in regional Victoria, which is seeing a boom in food and wine offerings. Areas like Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula, previously seen as poorer tourism cousins to Phillip Island and Mornington Peninsula, have also stepped up their offerings by
engaging and mentoring suppliers who can meet the international market’s needs.
Notably, Geelong is also planning to open its own convention and exhibition centre in coming years.
“There are significant growth opportunities for us and also more opportunities leveraging off international associations that will be conferencing in Melbourne on a bigger scale, the satellite meetings and the onflow,” said convention bureau manager at Business Events Geelong, Mark Day.
“I think that the Geelong Convention Center and the 200-room hotel that comes with that, and a Holiday Inn opening in 2020 gives us a really good base to be able to service that market.”
A recent fam programme for South-east Asian agents showcased a range of possibilities for groups, including a behind-the-scenes tour cum progressive dinner at Geelong’s GMHBA Stadium which offers 32 event spaces, to a cooking class at Jack Rabbit Vineyard. Throw in some teambuilding possibilities and cultural experiences and it would appear there’s little the region can’t offer.
Swanson knows the proof is in the pudding. Speaking ahead of the International Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses which took place in November 2019 with about 50,000 delegates, she informed delegates will do “record touring” of all the regional areas.
“I think (it) will be the largest group that’s ever gone to Healesville Sanctuary at one time, but they’re certainly visiting (destinations) across regional Victoria,” said Swanson. “They’re coming a long way to attend the conference and they’re making the most of their time here”.