Geoff Donaghy

In an exclusive interview with Travel And Tour World, Geoff Donaghy, Chief Executive Officer, International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) shares his opinion on the role of ICC Sydney in boosting MICE tourism industry.

Travel And Tour World: Please share about the role and contribution of ICC Sydney in MICE industry.

Geoff Donaghy: International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) is Australia’s premier convention, exhibition and entertainment venue. ICC Sydney recently commemorated five years of operation (marking the milestone in December 2021). During this time it has contributed to A$2.53 billion of visitor expenditure and a host of community benefits by consistently delivering successful events.

Following a A$3.4 billion redevelopment of the convention, exhibition, entertainment centre and its precinct by the NSW Government through a Public Private Partnership, ICC Sydney’s team has delivered 2,700 conventions, exhibitions, banquets, seminars and entertainment events and welcomed 4.5 million attendees through our doors since launching the venue in December 2016.

Travel And Tour World: What are the challenges you have faced due to the pandemic in business?

Geoff Donaghy: Specifically looking at the business events industry, the Business Council of Australia (BECA) reported a loss of A$35 billion in direct expenditure to the Australian economy and over 230,000 jobs being affected as a result of the pandemic.

A significant ramification that hasn’t been widely acknowledged is the long term impact on the global knowledge economy which is silently suffering. Business events deliver much more than just travel and hospitality spend. They are a driving force for innovation, providing researchers and practitioners with a platform to discuss and disseminate new ideas.

Travel And Tour World: Please enlighten us on ICC’s collaboration with the government and convention bureaus for promoting business. What kind of supporting funds are you granted with?

Geoff Donaghy: Industry advocacy has been a consistent feature of ICC Sydney’s approach to recovery during the pandemic. Through Geoff Donaghy’s role as Deputy Chair of the Business Events Council of Australia, and most recently in convening the Sydney Business Events Coalition (with Business Sydney and the Committee for Sydney) we are championing the contribution of the business events industry and its role in activity the city.

As a major partner of Business Events Sydney, the venue is well placed to facilitate introductions to Sydney’s convention bureau and the funding programs it facilitates with all levels of Government in Australia.

The venue team has communicated with event organisers sharing announcements of funding programs available where appropriate.

Travel And Tour World: What meetings have you secured amidst the pandemic years (2022 meetings season)?

Geoff Donaghy: In spite of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the venue has seen strong desire and demand in the market to resume face to face as soon as possible and in line with the health and safety regulations.

With 250 events already secured for the first half of 2022 and events in the pipeline through to 2031, ICC Sydney expects a return to delivering A$1 billion annually to the New South Wales (NSW) community within the next five years.

Travel And Tour World: Please share your key responsibilities for hosting a safe and successful event at ICC in this pandemic time.

Geoff Donaghy: ICC Sydney operates in accordance with NSW Government Public Health Orders and has an approved COVID-19 Safety Plan in place.

The venue has an appointed internal COVID Taskforce to guide the business and oversee our event and team operational procedures informed by parent group ASM Global’sVenueShield program and in line with government legislation.

Refer to ICC Sydney’s EventSafe Operating Protocols for more information. The ICC Sydney EventSafe Operating Guide is a set of protocols spanning 16 key areas of event management and integrates best practice from parent group ASM Global’sVenueShield – a program of the most advanced hygienic safeguards, informed by public health authorities, medical and industry experts – which is deployed in ASM Global’s 325 worldwide facilities. The framework also operates within the safety protocols of Safe Work Australia’s Codes of Practices, which underpins how ICC Sydney works under the Work Health Safety law and, more recently, the COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles.

The plan further draws on ICC Sydney’s work with national and international industry bodies, to develop industrywide protocols in response to COVID-19. These have been evolved into a venue specific framework, which that, together with our clients and their needs, allow us to confidently run in person events.

Travel And Tour World: What are your business plans for 2022 tourism season? What strategies do you intend to implement for hosting events and meetings?

Geoff Donaghy: The current climate has brought about a need to be flexible and adjust to the variables that the pandemic presents. We take great pride in collaborating with clients to translate the latest regulations into event plans, helping to make adjustments to bookings or floorplans, and taking into consideration the needs of in person and remote audiences.

As international borders are further opened to the world, ICC Sydney and Sydney as a destination offer international convention organisers and delegates a world class venue, accommodation, natural beauty, unique flora and fauna and access to industry knowledge hubs through our advanced universities, innovation, research and start up communities.

In particular through ICC Sydney’s Legacy Program, we collaborate with event organisers to leave a lasting, positive legacy at the conclusion of their event across five key streams of environmental sustainability, First Nations, creative industries, innovators and entrepreneurs and generation next.

For more information about ICC Sydney’s industry leading Legacy Program, please refer to: Legacy Program | ICC Sydney

Travel And Tour World: Please share with our readers the detailed statistics of the last meetings and event season.

Geoff Donaghy: Demonstrating the venue’s industry leading adaptability and innovation in the face of lockdowns, border closures and operating restrictions, in the 2020/2021 financial year ICC Sydney hosted more than 352 events (of which 80 were virtual, 72 hybrid and 200 were in-person events) for over 200,000 in person attendees despite the ongoing impact and restrictions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing opportunities for social engagement and economic benefits across Sydney and through its supply chain into regional areas.

ICC Sydney had worked closely with the NSW Health Department to ensure it was able to continue its service to clients and the community safely throughout the year.

During the month of May 2021, almost 90,000 people joined 60 events. This return to near-normal domestic activity confirmed the team’s success in maintaining client and stakeholder confidence throughout the pandemic. The results – and in particular those achieved during May 2021 – further laid the foundations for long-term recovery.

Travel And Tour World: Is there any technological progress that has been incorporated in the venue?

Geoff Donaghy: We have in place high quality virtual and hybrid event solutions that are delivered by experienced audio visual and event management professionals that support our clients to plan for multiple event scenarios regardless of the restrictions that may come into effect.

ICC Sydney has continued to refine our technological solutions to include an end to end tech product – ICC Sydney Connect – a customisable online platform for broadcasting event content and engaging attendees. We launched a Media Studio – a dedicated permanent studio space offering broadcast recording services, live streaming and digital event solutions.

Because ICC Sydney never closed, we remain match-fit and are already running national events to the current safety requirement of one person per two square metres.

Travel And Tour World: How has Omicron outbreak affected ICC Sydney as a prime MICE venue?

Geoff Donaghy: The current environment is fundamentally different to the Delta shutdown which ran from late June to October last year. Our clients are watching what is happening overseas and they know this wave will end and events will resume. It will peak in the relatively short term and our clients expect to be able to proceed with their events.

International flights resumed in December 2021, and as it stands, ICC Sydney is able to host in person events at one person per two square metres until late January (when the regulations are set to be reviewed again) and offers organisers hybrid and virtual event solutions to reach remote audiences as required.

Travel And Tour World: How have you equipped to ensure MICE events vis-à-vis the objective of providing major impetus to safety?

Geoff Donaghy: In the early months of the pandemic, our team was quick to market with the world’s best practice safety management tools through our EventSafe Operating Guide, which integrates parent group ASM Global’s Venue Shield program, and introduced a virtual events service. This quickly evolved to hybrid event solutions as restrictions eased and in the last quarter of 2020 we moved to also hosting 100% in person events.

ICC Sydney’s comprehensive safety standards coupled with our flexible, best practice event management solutions means that we are able to collaborate with our clients to ensure the health and safety of their delegates and attendees remains paramount – no matter the evolving requirements that may arise along the planning journey.

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