YEAR IN REVIEW: What has Brisbane’s transformation meant for the city’s conference and business events industry? - Choose Brisbane


YEAR IN REVIEW: What has Brisbane’s transformation meant for the city’s conference and business events industry?

Brisbane City

With the end of the financial year comes time to reflect on just what a transformative time it has been for Brisbane from a tourism and development perspective.

Record numbers of events, new hotels, new attractions, award-winning meeting and conference facilities — it all adds up to unprecedented growth for Brisbane.

We asked three of the city’s event and hotel business leaders — Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre General Manager Bob O’Keeffe, W Brisbane General Manager Hal Philp, and Brisbane Economic Development Agency Business Events General Manager Juliet Alabaster — just how the city has fared in the past 12 months, what insights they have to share about the business events space and where things are headed in the next financial year.

Bob O’Keeffe, General Manager, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

What have been some of the key highlights from the past 12 months?

It's the best year we've ever had at BCEC. We opened in 1995, so to have your best year in 24 years is just exceptional. It was even better than the 2014 G20 year!

We ran 165 national and international conferences, and usually we run around 120 to 129, so it's a massive increase. They've all been quite high yielding, with most well exceeding delegate forecasts.

We also won the Meeting & Events Australia Award for the best Meeting, Exhibition or Event Venue in Australia, which really puts the icing on the cake. It is great recognition for the team here.

What have been some of the industry trends or insights that you’ve noticed?

Brisbane's reputation has developed internationally in the past year. The development has been happening domestically for years, but now they’re sitting up and taking notice overseas. 

The proliferation of Brisbane from an infrastructure perspective, with new hotels and attractions, has bolstered Brisbane’s reputation and people see that it’s really a go-ahead place now. 

The hotels that opened in South Bank recently — the Novotel and the Emporium Hotel South Bank — and a few just across the bridge, such as the W, are really making their mark. All those hotels have great brands and great service and they really do help us win business. During the recent Brisbane Truck Show, some of those hotels were taken over in their entirety by major exhibitors at that event.

It’s these strong partnerships that show Brisbane works together incredibly well. I think we actually do live the Team Brisbane ethos here. The culture of Brisbane just makes that so much easier. 

We work really closely with Brisbane EDA, Tourism and Events Queensland and with the hotels. We’re able to act as one, with one mission.

What are the big goals for the year ahead at BCEC?

It will be another strong year. As part of our planning, we know about 30 to 40 per cent of the business we are going to do in the year ahead. The rest comes in as the year progresses. 

There are some exceptional conferences coming in, such as the 2020 Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction for 3000 delegates, a major international UN event, and there’s real traction in aligning smaller event opportunities with the big events we host. 

Looking slightly longer term, we have close to $1 billion in conference bookings into the future, so it’s a very strong pipeline. 

Juliet Alabaster - General Manager, Business Events, Brisbane EDA

What have been some of the key highlights from the past 12 months?

The past financial year was our biggest on record, in terms of the economic value that will be delivered to Brisbane. Working with partners, Brisbane EDA secured 91 business events set to deliver over $112 million in economic impact. We have never been over $100 million before, so it's very exciting.

There are a few reasons why we are hitting that figure. 

The first one is the Lord Mayor's Trailblazer Grant, where we offer a grant of up to $5000 for a local to travel to an international association conference to help Brisbane secure the event for a future year. We've just finished our second round of the grant program and have had two big wins to round out the financial year — the AG Bell Global Listening and Spoken Language Symposium 2021 and the International Peptides Symposium. 

The second space that really flourished in the past year is the incentive opportunities for Brisbane. Flight Centre’s 2020 Global Ball is a great example of a recent big incentive win, which Brisbane EDA achieved in partnership with Tourism and Events Queensland.

And the third thing is, of course, the injection of infrastructure here in Brisbane. 

Those three things combined have meant our leads have increased, particularly out of China, and we’re starting to see conversion as well. We've had four key wins this financial year in the incentive space that will achieve over 20,000 delegate days worth a combined $13.5 million.

Any other insights or trends that you've noticed?

In the incentive space our main focus is China. It has a short lead time, so the opportunity for the city is that we can win some large pieces of business within the next six or 12 months.

We've been extremely fortunate with the level of new tourism infrastructure opening over the past 12 months, including new four and five star hotels — the W Brisbane, The Westin, Novotel South Bank, Emporium Hotel South Bank and The Fantouzzo Art Series hotel at Howard Smith Wharves. 

People outside of Brisbane are saying, ‘There's a lot going on up there, I really must visit and see what's happening,’ which is fantastic. 

Hal Philp - General Manager, W Brisbane

What have been some of the key highlights from the past 12 months?

We opened just over 12 months ago now, so that was obviously a highlight. We also opened our sister hotel, The Westin Brisbane, in November. It's really been an exciting time for the city with all these new developments opening and providing new offerings and experiences.

What brought the W brand to Brisbane for the first time?

W is all about what's new and what's next. W often looks to markets where it sees growth, where it sees a market that is going to potentially grow and develop further. That was very much part of the journey here for W Brisbane.

You're obviously in an excellent location — inner city, but also near South Bank and close to the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. Did that location form a big part of your strategy?

Absolutely. Being so close to the Convention Centre — it's a short and picturesque walk across the bridge for our guests — is a fantastic thing for us.

Our location is really second to none. We’re close to GOMA, South Bank and more. It's all right there just on the other side of the bridge. For corporate travellers that might be staying in the hotel during the week, it's easy for them to walk to their offices in the CBD. And then of course there’s the leisure and retail market, who have easy access to all of the things there are to do in the city.