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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 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

February 2011 Conference+Meetings World 13REGIONAL FOCUS"matured to the point where it cansustain an annual trade show".The PCB delivered $93m worth ofbusiness events for the WesternAustralian state economy last year, withannual 2009-10 sales exceeding thetarget by 14 per cent. "This provides anexcellent return on the state government'sincreased investment in marketing to securebusiness events," says the Tourism Ministerfor Western Australia, Liz Constable. She adds the Perth Convention andExhibition Centre, which opened in 2004,had been a key factor in underpinning Perthas a convention destination.McLean said the bureau had secured 134conventions and incentive travel groups in2009-10, representing over 50,000delegates. She said the estimated delegatespend jumped 39.6 per cent.The PCB helped secure the globalliquefied natural gas conference andexhibition LNG18 for Western Australia in2016, McLean describing it as "a majorinternational coup for Perth". McLean is hoping the State Governmentwill fast-track expansion of the PCEC andnew hotel infrastructure to ensure the city'sfacilities can fully cope with the influx ofaround 4,000 delegates.With the Western Australian Governmentsupporting extensive development of thePerth waterfront area, PCEC CEO Dean Leebelieves the year is set to be a particularlystrong one for the venue. "In fact it'sshaping up to be our best year yet sinceopening," he says.Big events include the CommonwealthHeads of Government Meetings for 1,500delegates and the Cardiac Society ofAustralia, and New Zealand's AnnualScientific Meetings 2011 with 2,000delegates. "Perth has burgeoning infrastructure andcreative projects that will broaden the city'ssocial and cultural appeal," says McLean.A Sydneysider's meetingsperspectiveIn 2009, tourism chiefs identified $8bnworth of investment in conference andmeetings infrastructure around the country. The Sydney-based convention bureau,Business Events Sydney (BESydney), gave astrong welcome to the New South WalesState Government's commitment to theexpansion of convention space in the city'sDarling Harbour district.The new conference and entertainmentauditorium development is expected toincrease the city's meetings capacity for upto 12,000 delegates with a fixed seatingcapacity for 6,000. The SydneyEntertainment Centre and its car park inDarling Harbour will be demolished to makeway for a new Sydney Convention andEntertainment Centre (SCEC) under a$550m plan and is due to be completed by2015. When completed, it will be the largestconvention space in the country. "With significantly increased investment inboth convention infrastructure andmarketing, particularly in Asia and theMiddle East, competition is becoming moreintense and those destinations that don'tmaintain quality standards and clearbranding will see their market sharesdiminish," says Ogden's Donaghy. "Korea and Singapore are investingheavily in their meetings industry," says Lion."China and India are hot on their heels asthey start to hold their meetings in otherAsian countries to establish whatopportunities might exist for them."CEO of BESydney Jon Hutchinson believescompetition will only get more intense. "Theglobal financial crisis has taught our industrymany lessons and one is the need tocontinuously innovate to produce new waysof conducting business."In 2010, BESydney secured 74 businessevents, which will deliver 217,960 delegatedays and generate $204m of economicvalue to the city. "We have 99 eventsconfirmed for Sydney right up until 2017and with more capacity and facilities in thepipeline, we are confident of winning evenmore business," says Hutchison.Such events include the Amway Chinaconvention which should attract over 10,000delegates to the city in 2011 and the 105thRotary International Convention, expecting20,000 delegates in 2014. Further inland, the Sydney Showgroundplans to increase the floor space of its mainarena from 21,600sqm to 40,000sqm by2012, allowing it to host larger conventionsand exhibitions. Its owner, the RoyalAgricultural Society of NSW, says theupgrade will see upgraded corporatehospitality, bars and function space. In September 2009, a city ambassadorprogramme was launched and its 40-plusambassadors are already helping bring innew business. "BESydney has a bid win ratioof 74 per cent with 69 bids secured in theperiod of 2009/10. MD of professional conference organiser(PCO), Arinex, Roslyn McLeod says: "Whatmakes Sydney unique is its location, friendlyand professional people, and an ability tocreate successful outcomes for organisersand delegates alike." Arinex organised the 93rd Annual LionsInternational Convention, 28 June-2 July2010, in Sydney. The event, which took overhalf of the SCEC's 30,000sqm of floorspace, attracted 12,000 delegates. The MD of PCO, ICMS Australasia, BryanHolliday, admits Sydney does havedrawbacks, too. "The biggest challenge isthere are too few venues that canaccommodate large meeting and also haveroom left for exhibitions and catering. I'mlooking forward to seeing the expandedfacilities at Star City."While the sun, surf and sand continue toprovide an attractive backdrop for delegatesfrom abroad, distance remains the greatchallenge for both Perth and Sydney. Thepromised infrastructure developments canhelp tip the balance.Perth's top five attractions. The Pinnacles, limestone formationsin Nambung National Park. Beachside suburb Cottesloe. Visit Rottnest Island, said to be oneof the most unusual islands in Australia. Perth's Kings Park dwarfs New YorkCity's Central Park in size. Aquarium of Western AustraliaSydney's top five attractions. Join a Sydney Harbour Cruise or takethe ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. Visit the Blue Mountains. Visit Taronga Zoo for the wildlife. Sink your feet into the sand at BondiBeach. Climb the Opera House steps orSydney Harbour BridgeIn Western Australia Perth is expanding its events offering