5 minutes with an outsider

(L-R) Mike Cannon with ACCB CEO Andrew Hiebl collecting his Hall of Fame plaque.


You’ve been based in Sarawak for a while now – what ‘outsider’ perspective can you bring to Australia’s business event offering?

Australia, with its excellent reputation for an outstanding range of products and services and can-do response to client needs (most of the time) is still a market leader, driving repeat business with credibility, and offering a wonderful benchmark for destinations growing into the business of business events.  But, by God, it’s expensive.  And with ‘planners striving to do more with less’, Australia needs to meet that challenge with new offerings, and less expensive experiences.

What’s your take on the recent $12m Business Events Bid Fund?

It’s pretty simple. Well done, and sincere congratulations to those lobbying (AACB and allies), those that have supported, such Tourism Australia, and especially government for ‘getting it’, for now.

According to the latest Amex forecast, ‘Planners in Asia Pacific region are striving to do more with less.’ How does that affect an expensive destination like Australia?

Australia needs to meet the challenge with new offerings, and less expensive experiences. If it doesn’t, it’s going to start losing market share. Entrepreneurs will always come to the fore in this regard. But AACB, the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia and such like need to take the case to industry with open forums to dialogue-and-discover solutions.

There is a push at state level to attract more events into regional destinations – how can bureaux help drive that?

Most of all by being more State or Territory focused, such as Tasmania and the Northern Territory, remembering that it’s always the clients’ choice, and to win the regions must address the business of the event with their ambassadors and suppliers. The role of big-city bureaux will always remain, of course, but with greater focus and smaller teams. I don’t see the need for regional bureaux if the State or Territory bureaux are proactive and focused on branding and marketing – with the support of products and services. And don’t forget about the research; it’s all about the research.

What challenges do you see for Australian convention bureaux in the future?

Funding, funding, funding – with continuity. It’s a culture thing. We are not manufacturing, or agri-business, or health, education or security – the three basic-necessities for society. And leaders change too often. We still need to firmly establish the role of convention bureaux in providing destinations with on-going education, opportunities to enhance the profile of the destination, plus opportunities to address business, aka trade, the very latest research and the yield beyond tourism. The bureaux, AACB and such like are doing a sterling job in addressing these values.

I would also suggest a national forum to address the value of bureaux membership. I’m told it works for some, but I don’t believe it. And I know it doesn’t work for others, especially where a mass of business events products and services is missing. It’s a matter of market failure, best served by government funding, with bureaux addressing the matters of branding, marketing and winning bids for the private sector and PPPs such as convention centres, instead of spending 40-60 per cent of management’s efforts in winning and serving members. I look forward to the argument on that one.