Fast Five: Reimagining the industry after an unexpected turn of events

As the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the events industry to a standstill, Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO Julia Swanson explains what is needed to put Melbourne back on center-stage.


Welcome to another edition of Fast Five. This week the Victorian Chamber is proud to present Julia Swanson, the Chief Executive of the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB).

The COVID-19 pandemic has wounded many businesses across the world, but none have been as severely impacted than the events industry – particularly in Melbourne.

With Metropolitan Melbourne now looking to enter ‘Step 3’ in the State Government’s Road to Recovery, all Victorians can once again dream about the excitement of some of Melbourne’s brilliant events and celebrations.

For the past 10 years, Julia has been at the forefront and delivery of some of the world’s largest and most prestigious events at the MCB, including the International AIDS Conference 2014, World Congress of Cardiology 2014 and the World Congress of Nephrology 2019.

Melbourne Convention Bureau CEO, Julia Swanson.#1: What do you think will be the greatest challenge to your industry in the future?

Firstly, I’d say I’m quite optimistic about the business events sector in the long term. Virtual and hybrid events will also have a big impact on the business events landscape.

Digital solutions have truly come into their own during the pandemic – it was a trend that has been accelerated out of necessity. Online events are not a substitute for face-to-face connections, but rather an opportunity for business event organisers to ensure their events are maximising reach and growing their audience.

From a destination viewpoint, digital events provide for greater reach globally of the Melbourne brand, building on the captured audience of a live event via content, our knowledge, industry strength and our people at the podium beamed to a broader global audience.

This increased awareness is not just a destination’s visitor and tourism brand, but our city’s business and innovation brand.

#2: What do you think is needed to boost opportunity for Victorian business?

The current focus is on sustaining business via support packages. We are looking forward to a clear path for recovery – a roadmap on how the economy can get back on track, what stimulus can be made available to get businesses trading again, how are demand driving organisations like MCB equipped to support the sector, and a clear way to restart their operations in a COVID-normal world.

Safety and hygiene are more important than ever.

For the business events sector, how we operate under controlled COVIDSafe principles will be key to managing any kind of return to physical events.

When done well, these protocols will instill confidence and give a destination a competitive edge.

#3: What does the MCB need to do to achieve greater success?

The MCB must stay relevant and evolve. Reworking the value chain of what makes business events successful will be key. This means continual innovation and reimagining what events can look like in a COVID-normal world and leading the way to bring these events to life.

It is going to be a very competitive landscape for destinations. As borders open, competition both domestically and internationally will be fierce as all cities vie for the lucrative business event dollar.

MCB already has a presence in national business event space, and while we continue business development for high-yield international events for the longer-term pipeline, there will be an elevated focus on driving short term business for 2021-2022 via national business events and when the time is right, across NZ and Asia Pacific markets, as travel-bubbles emerge.

#4: What changes have the MCB implemented to support workers?

In many regards it has been business as usual at MCB albeit working from home.

We are fully staffed with our teams in Melbourne, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, London, and Washington DC working on longer term business opportunities.

“We recognise our vital role in ensuring the business events industry continues to be well served and supported in its recovery efforts.”

Communication has played a major role in keeping us all connected and engaged, the health and wellbeing of our people is priority. Where possible, we’ve assisted the team in their working from home environment, with a focus on OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) and mental wellbeing.

#5: What has been the MCB’s greatest achievement over the past year?

Prior to the pandemic and associated restrictions, the MCB delivered some amazing results from the 52 business events held attracting more than 84,000 delegates to our city to deliver $274 million in economic contribution for the state.

In addition, we’ve supported our clients to postpone their business events, rather than cancel - we’ve had success with 70 per cent of planned events rescheduled to the years beyond.

We have also continued to sustain acquisition of global business events with 145 business events secured for the years ahead.

Currently we are managing more than $500 million worth of bids that have the potential to contribute 240,000 room nights for the State. This is a very healthy pipeline of potential events for Melbourne, so we feel confident in the long-term outlook for our sector. 

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