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Global meetings in Sydney: Proven legacies and future prospects

by EN
Sydney

Business Events Sydney (BESydney) has for a long time collected data on the legacies and value of in-person meetings, from growth opportunities for early-career participants to sector development and global research and collaboration impact. The disruption of the last two years has increased people’s appetite to meet in person and, when circumstances have allowed, these events have had strong participation and equal effusion from delegates confirming how much they have missed in-person connection. Recent research supports the anecdotal evidence.

In 2021, US-based events company, Freeman released research comprising data from over one million event attendees and stakeholders which found that 85% of respondents believe that in-person events are irreplaceable as they drive commerce and networking that creates partnerships and innovation. Meanwhile, 2021 research carried out by Tourism Australia found that delegates have a strong preference for face-to-face formats, with 78% of corporate decision-makers surveyed stating they expect future events will have an in-person element, with most (58%) anticipating wholly in-person meetings. BESydney’s research and Global Ambassador stories also illuminate how different stakeholders and the wider community benefit from in-person business events.

Value for delegates

BESydney research released in 2020 showed that an overwhelming majority of event stakeholders agree that conferences have an instant effect on new ideas and knowledge for delegates. Research highlighted that 86% agreed that conferences immediately expose participants to new and innovative ideas; and 88% said they expose them to new and innovative knowledge. Over the years, BESydney research has also shown that respondents consistently rate the value of in-person conferences for early career delegates, with 67% agreeing in 2020 that conferences developed the knowledge and capabilities of people just starting out. The experiences of BESydney Global Ambassadors – a group comprising international leaders, innovators and visionaries with a deep passion for Sydney and the benefits of global meetings which works alongside BESydney – confirm this.

Professor Stephen Simpson is academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre, a multidisciplinary research centre committed to improving global health at the University of Sydney. Simpson says early-career participation in conferences was crucial to his development as a scientist.

“[They] helped me to present my work to peers, but more importantly to meet senior figures in the field and create relationships with others at my early career stage,” Simpson says. “I came to learn that you only need one significant conversation to make a conference worthwhile.”

BESydney Global Ambassadors also speak to the powerful networking value that in-person meetings deliver. Professor Simpson states, “It’s what happens after the formal talks that counts most.” The professor reflects fondly on the first time he presented on nutritional geometry, which has since changed the world and led to him being elected to the world’s oldest independent scientific academy, the Royal Society of London. After a 10-minute talk at a conference in the Netherlands in 1992, which attracted attention from several key figures, a connection with a fellow delegate at the conference dinner led to a decades-long collaboration which continues to this day.

“I met up with a chemical ecologist and entomologist from the University of Laval in Canada, Jeremy McNeil – now president of the Canadian Royal Society. We ended up sitting drinking some very fine wines and planning work which we have pursued together ever since. Until Covid-19, we would regularly meet up at conferences all around the world.”

Value for organisers

In-person events provide significant revenue, with research suggesting that for associations they generate around one third of their revenue. In 2020, a white paper from the Institute of Association Leadership showed that 60% of participating association executives reported negative financial impact from the loss of in-person events during the pandemic. But events provide organisers with more than just revenue. In recent research commissioned by BESydney and conducted by the University of Technology Sydney, they found that in-person events provide an invaluable opportunity for organisers to engage new members and build loyalty amongst participants, including exhibitors and sponsors.

In 2018, Sydney hosted SIBOS – one of the world’s largest financial services events – and demonstrated the role that face-to-face conferences can play in reaching new geographic audiences. Held at the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney), SIBOS drew a significant audience from the Asia Pacific region – more than three times that of previous and consequent iterations of the conference – which gave the organisers greater penetration into the APAC region, home to six of the top 10 financial centres globally.

Meanwhile, Tourism Australia’s research into the evolving attitudes of event decision-makers from the corporate world during the pandemic reveals the value of events for businesses, with the most consistent top two reasons for wanting to hold events being to build team morale or connection, and to reward employees. Reinforcing company culture regularly rounded out the top three, with companies also interested in driving innovation and meeting with customers and suppliers.   

Value for industry sectors

Before the pandemic, up to 76% of those surveyed for BESydney research agreed that events in Sydney supported the development of global research and collaboration. The research also tracks the power of conferences to showcase local sectors to a global audience and – before the pandemic – 83% of surveyed event stakeholders agreed that conferences provide this opportunity. Again, this is demonstrated by the experiences of BESydney Global Ambassador stories, which highlight how in-person meetings have supercharged the growth of their sectors.

Mark Baker, honorary professor at Macquarie Medical School (Macquarie University), says conferences in his sector, proteomics, have kickstarted major long-term industry-wide international initiatives.

Baker recalls chairing the Human Proteome Organization’s forum discussion at its 2010 international meeting in Sydney: “The whole proteomics scientific community agreed to combine strategies, accept differences and immediately officially launch the Human Proteome Project”.

The project aims to map all possible protein make-ups of human cells, which is expected to produce three times the data of mapping the human genome, given that protein make-ups change depending on conditions. The project has been underway for over a decade now. Baker says face-to-face events also facilitate succession planning and create opportunities to encourage the next generation of scientists.

BESydney Global Ambassador Dr Pia Winberg, director, CEO and chief scientist for Venus Shell Systems, which produces seaweed biomass for health applications, says conferences have helped establish her industry.

“Conferences have been integral to the establishment of a new industry base in my field of technology in seaweed production, processing and product development,” Winberg says. “Both in terms of rounding up the state of technology, the experts available and questions that remain to be answered. I am now a part of a strong global network of seaweed researchers and entrepreneurs, who collectively understand the technology space and are seeking global progress and collaboration in the emerging seaweed industry.”

Conferences also garner media attention for sectors, thanks to the major international speakers that they attract and the timely focal point they provide for industry. For example, the widespread media coverage of the recent United Nations climate summit, COP26, shows how an event can create news and fuel public discourse for major subject-specific issues.

Value for the community

The impact of in-person events goes well beyond the industries served. With the power of event legacies rising, event organisers continue to find ways to extend value into the host community. In Sydney, community legacy opportunities include programmes for school groups incorporated into the conference offering, donating leftover catering to food rescue charities like OzHarvest, providing other conference items to those in need, and raising money for a specific cause during an event.

ICC Sydney has developed a formal programme to streamline and facilitate legacy opportunities in the local community, with five streams that connect events and delegates with Sydney’s creative industries and First Nations communities; the city’s entrepreneurs, innovators and future leaders; and local sustainability initiatives. As participants get a more authentic experience of Sydney and its potential; the community in turn benefits from an international audience with expertise and connections, providing opportunities for community growth and development. 

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Value for the economy

In-person events are also great for the economy. In the 2018-19 financial year, Australia’s business events industry generated AUD$35.7bn (US$26.7bn) for local economies around the country. At the time of writing, BESydney has secured 99 events to be delivered in the city between 2022 and 2029, which are expected to generate just over half a billion dollars for the economy. This positive financial impact will be felt beyond the city, with 46% of those surveyed in BESydney’s latest research reporting visits to surrounding areas. Industry and other stakeholders that participate in events – which includes delegates, exhibitors and sponsors – spend on average AUD$823 per day, which is significantly higher than leisure visitors. This expenditure flows through to other sectors, including tourism and hospitality, with hotels, restaurants and tourism experiences benefitting, especially in traditionally off-peak periods during the week and outside holidays. 

New experiences

While appetite for in-person meetings remains strong, the ongoing effects of the pandemic mean that meeting organisers are likely to need flexible options to support global access and will seek new experiences and ways for delegates to participate.

In its most recent research, BESydney explored delegates’ experiences of virtual conferences during the pandemic, and how those learnings can be incorporated into future events. While the findings show that in-person meetings continue to offer legacy benefits to associations, government and community – from career benefits, engagement and learning, accessibility, business benefits and social benefits – it also showed that hybrid delivery can provide delegates with greater flexibility.

ICC Sydney has used its experience of the pandemic, during which it adapted its offer and remained open throughout, to demonstrate how to prioritise in-person participation and provide successful and engaging hybrid formats. Its in-house AV and digital teams work with clients to produce hybrid and virtual events, working backwards from clients’ desired outcomes to design quality end-to-end experiences and build the virtual elements. It now has its own virtual studios, as well as an in-house hybrid and virtual event platform, ICC Sydney Connect, which it built with a local event software company (though it is equipped to deliver events on any platform that clients choose).

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In-person experiences too have evolved, with greater expectations of Covid-19 Safe spaces and practices. In Sydney, the pandemic has been managed with border controls, public health measures and high community compliance. With strong vaccination rates and good safety measures in place, Sydney is now open, with businesses across the city well versed in enhanced health and safety and delivering Covid-19 Safe services and events.

Sydney is also fortunate to benefit from welcoming weather – with an average annual temperature of 21.7⁰C– which makes it ideal for outdoor Covid-19 Safe business events, whether an intimate dinner, large-scale conference or corporate function. The city offers numerous outdoor spaces with views, which can be tailored to the unique needs and business goals of meeting organisers. This includes ICC Sydney, which in 2021 introduced a suite of outdoor networking packages to make the most of Sydney’s ideal climate and demand for outside spaces. Its four outdoor packages offer meeting planners different themes, from rustic winery to a skydeck social club, and can be further boosted with add-ons including games, tai chi, massages, and meditation; with its largest outdoor space measuring 5,000sqm and able to host up to 5,000 people.

Future prospects

Sydney is a future-facing city built around innovation and collaboration; and it’s open and ready to share its expertise and experiences with the world. Informed by its ongoing research and commitment to connect world-leading minds, BESydney is primed to build back best and again realise the value of global meetings for clients and local communities; to create exceptional new experiences; and to work with clients to deliver on their legacy. So, if you are looking to hold your next global meeting in city that inspires, supported by an experienced team of passionate experts, it’s got to be Sydney.

Connect with our team today to start your journey.

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