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REGIONAL FOCUSOver the past two years, while therest of the globe experienced aneconomic downturn, the Australiandollar boomed. Governmental austeritymeasures and major Chinese investment inlocal industry is widely credited with theAustralian dollar sitting above the US dollarin value for the first time since the country'sfederation. While this is most welcome for Australiansinvesting or travelling outside of the country,the increased value has made the countrymore expensive as a convention destinationfor international delegates. The Group Director for ConventionCentres at international venue managementagency AEG Ogden, Geoff Donaghy, saysthe dollar's strength is having some impacton materialisation of international delegatesfor conventions "but doesn't appear to behaving any great impact on longer termdestination decision as yet". "However, it isa factor we are monitoring closely," he says.The Head of Business Events at TourismAustralia, Penny Lion, agrees thestrengthening may affect the choice ofdestination. "However, it is not the onlyconsideration for business event visitors,"she says. "They also consider a destination'sability to deliver business objectives, fromholding an effective strategy meeting toinspiring and incentivising staff," Lion adds. No one is immune, it seems, and theglobal financial crisis did impact with asignificant decrease in total conventiondelegates, down by 18 per cent, equivalentto AU$1.8bn in economic impact in 2009.There was also a 13 per cent decrease ininternational business events visitors in2009, the tourism agency reports. Event Director for Reed Travel Exhibitions'Asia-Pacific meetings tradeshow, AIME, Sallyde Swart, believes there was a strongbounce back in 2010. "Delegate arrivals toAustralia increased each month," she notes,while admitting, business levels are not backto pre-global financial crisis.She says the Asia-Pacific region hasincreased in importance in recent years, withmany emerging markets offering newbusiness opportunities. "Brand Australia willcontinue to attract solid meetings business,particularly from Asia," she says. In January 2010, the Minister for Tourism,the Hon Martin Ferguson, launched a $2mthree-year programme for the businessevents sector. Jointly funded by TourismAustralia, the Australian Association ofConvention Bureaux and convention centresacross the country, the plan is a targetedmarketing and communications strategy forthe association sector.Australia ranked 16th worldwide and 4thin the Asia-Pacific in the latest InternationalCongress and Convention Association(ICCA) rankings with 169 qualifyingassociation meetings. Lion. for one, wouldlike to see Australia back in the top 10."Australia has the skills, passion and productto achieve this within the next five years,"she says.In regards to the two cities featured, Perthis currently ranked equal 27th in the MiddleEast and Asia Pacific region and 139thworldwide, with 12 qualifying meetings held. Sydney, meanwhile, hosts 36 per cent ofmeetings held in Australia. It is ranked 27thworldwide and 8th in the Middle East andAsia Pacific region with 61 meetings held.Both cities have slipped slightly in the ICCArankings, however. Western Australia's rising eventsAnnouncing the launch of the inauguralPerth Event Show for 6-7 May 2011, thePerth Convention Bureau (PCB) MD,Christine McLean, said the WesternAustralian business tourism industry hadStrengthening of theAussiemeetings dollarIt is east versus westas Sarah O'Donnellcompares Sydney and Perth's meetings offering in light ofnew infrastructure and marketing developments.12Conference+Meetings World www.c-mw.net February 2011Tabcorp Holidays announced inSeptember 2008 a AU$575m(US$573m) investment intransforming its Start City casino inSydney's Darling Harbourentertainment district, into a "world-class" entertainmentdestination. The developmentbegan in 2009, is due to becompleted by the end of 2011,and will re-orientate the casino'sentrance towards the harbour. Itwill include a new, five-star 250-room hotel, more restaurants, barsand improved conference andgaming facilities. When finished,the casino's ballroom will have acapacity for 1,200 delegates andinclude several additionalconference rooms. Star City meetingsexpansion View from Fort Denison across Sydney Harbour