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6 July 2023 • AIME News

At AIME 2023, the leaders of the Australian business events industry held a forum to further discussions around the formation of a single, united voice to represent the industry. In May, it was announced that The Australian Business Events Association (ABEA) would be forming this year, with friend of AIME and former Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre CEO Peter King named as its Foundational Chair.

The ABEA was officially launched on Global Exhibitions Day. With two successful industry briefings already completed in Sydney and Melbourne, and another in Adelaide on Thursday 13 July, AIME Event Director Silke Calder sat down with Peter King to find out more.

Silke Calder: Peter, congratulations on your new role as chair of the Australian Business Events Association (ABEA). It’s an exciting time for the (business) events industry – what are some of the benefits we can expect from having one, unified organisation?

Peter King: The formation of a united organisation has been on the cards for probably over a decade – so it is certainly not a new conversation. More recently, though, there has been a lot of frustration, predominantly when dealing with the government, in wanting to have one voice [for the business events industry].

For background, until now we’ve had half a dozen or more various associations that are all attached to this industry, but there was no single voice. This became really obvious during Covid when we really needed a lot of support as an industry. We went from a hundred miles an hour to zero overnight and we were reaching out to federal and state governments for all sorts of support, and there was no single, united place to turn.

Invariably as the pandemic progressed, we formed our own reference groups to be able to speak to governments and hence, the importance of the industry became much more evident to them.

There’s also the issue around the duplication of resources and effort. For example, when I was running a venue we were members of all of these associations. We put a lot of money into each of them but then we had to attend six different conferences, six different seminars, six different events – it was just this duplication of time and resources. There was never a desire to reduce the investment we were making into the industry but it was more about putting it into one bucket, into the one, properly resourced association and being able to have much more focused outcomes.

Silke Calder: What kind of feedback have you received from different industry groups since announcing the formation of ABEA? We at AIME are big supporters!

Peter King: Since the ABEA was announced, it has been universally applauded by so many people both domestically and all over the world, which is great. The common theme seems to be that this makes so much sense for us, why hasn’t this happened before?

There’s a group called the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) which is sort of the global umbrella for the meetings and a business events industry. And they are trying to do what we’re doing right now. So we’ve been invited to join the JMIC at the global table, which is great to help other people to understand how we got here and the benefits of what we’re doing. So it was fantastic that within the first week or two of announcing this we’ve already had a benefit from it – that this global group of people now know who to talk to in Australia. It’s one conversation to have rather than trying to talk to many different groups.

From my point of view, the business events industry is a broad church – if you’re in the business events industry you are probably also in major events, or entertainment, or live performance for example, and you might not necessarily classify yourself as specifically business events. There are other associations who we are associated with who will hopefully become members of the Australian Business Events Association. We want to bring as many people under this umbrella as possible, we want to see broader collaboration and in no way do we want to see fragmentation.

The essence of the ABEA is about connecting people and bringing people together to either be educated, to grow knowledge in a particular area of expertise, to network, or it can be just purely about entertainment.

Silke Calder: Are there any particular challenges or initiatives that are pertinent to the industry that you would like the ABEA to address in the short, medium and long term?

Peter King: The ABEA project team has done an enormous amount of work to get the Association to the point it is currently at, and there is a lot happening over the next few months. We recently released our 90-day action plan detailing our short-term roadmap across our five core pillars of industry development, community, research, professional development, and advocacy. After all that, I think we just need to be clear and consistent in our communication.

As a first step, in order to advocate, we need data and information and the federal government is providing some funding to make that happen, which we are in the process of gathering now. Then we need to sit down with the various parties and align their issues with ours. What the ABEA does end up focusing on will be determined by the research that we are doing and the data that we are collecting.

One issue that does spring to mind is workforce skills and planning. Building the skill base to support our industry, whether it’s specifically the events industry but more broadly, the hospitality industry is something I know that the state and federal governments are very focused on. And the ABEA will have an enormous role to play in things like career path planning and skill development for instance. That is one example of something that we can step into pretty much immediately.

Silke Calder: As the independent chair, what is your vision for the ABEA?

Peter King: We want to create a well resourced independent single voice for the business events industry that gets recognition and acknowledgment from the government as to the economic and social impacts that our industry brings. We also want to build pride in our industry so we can grow and retain skills and careers for the next generation.

We want to give everybody an opportunity to contribute. It’s not just about the big venues or the big exhibition organisers, it’s about a much broader supplier base and allowing people to have a say in what they think is important. And this is why we will be setting up state chapters to ensure we have a local voice.

Silke Calder: As the flagship business event for the APAC region, what role could AIME play in supporting the ABEA?

Peter King: As you know there’s already some highly secretive global initiatives that are underway! Other than that though, I think AIME has proven, especially coming out of covid, that we need to make time for the kind of face-to-face connection that AIME provides. It’s that focused industry collaboration that doesn’t exist anywhere else, and I just think it’s an incredibly important event that showcases the very essence of what our industry is all about.

There are also the programs that have been built around AIME, such as improving skills and knowledge sharing. I think one of the really important roles of the Australian Business Events Association is going to be to talk about and advocate the career path development for our industry. It is such a passionate and energetic industry that people love and they develop a career within.. But we need to be better at explaining how that career path and the skill development can take place. And so I think that’s a big role for ABEA. And a lot of that is facilitated at AIME.

Australian Business Events Association website can be found here

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