Centre a conventions catalyst

WESTERN Australia’s events industry is tipped to become the destination of first choice for many business events as expanded facilities meet a significant growth in demand.

This predicted demand has resulted from WA’s improved facilities and coincides with a preference among business travellers to attend events at destinations within Australia rather than overseas.

Another factor is that WA is seen as a fresh location for business events over eastern States locations.

However, Perth Convention Bureau sales and marketing director Jill Henry said the main catalyst for change would be Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“In bookings we already have 29,000 delegates for 2004 and that will increase,” she said.

“My prediction is a 12 per cent increase in 2004 based on this year’s figures.”

Ms Henry said that, prior to September 11, there was a perception that many potential delegates were discouraged from flying to WA for a conference due to the distance and associated expense.

However, Ms Henry said that had changed in the current global climate.

“It’s like a coming of age for Perth,” she said.

“We have statistics to prove that delegate materialisation is strong when the destination is WA and delegates are more likely to stay on and travel with their partners in WA after the event.”

Ms Henry said smaller function centres were unlikely to miss out on business with the opening of the PCEC.

“There will be a shift. The larger and more complex the meeting or convention, the more likely they are to use the convention centre,” she said.

“But those other smaller centres will still be extremely competitive because they can offset convention costs against rooms and catering costs.”

Esplanade Hotel Fremantle sales and marketing manager Noeleen Pearson said the Esplanade was confident of filling the $19 million facility and had already received bookings for a large number of international conferences for next year of up to 800 delegates per conference.

“What Esplanade Hotel Fremantle had over the Perth Convention Centre is the destination factor. The big plus of Fremantle from a smaller conference perspective is that it has cafes and the atmosphere and there are lots of things for delegates and their partners to do in close proximity to the Esplanade,” she said.

However, Australian Hotels Association WA executive director Bradley Woods said that while the spending of a business traveller to WA exceeded that of a tourist, the expectations of delegates needed to be addressed and WA’s profile as a convention destination needed to be raised.

“If we’re attracting a large delegation of the type that the Perth Convention Centre is hoping to, we really need to address a number of issues, including retail trading hours,” he said.

“In the tourism precinct, consideration needs to be given to get a balance of appropriate trading hours to service delegation expectations.

“One key factor is what additional funding the State Government is going to put in to market WA as a conference and event destination.”

To this end the Government recently announced a $300,000 initiative aimed at attracting more business tourism to Perth.

“The initiative, jointly funded by the State Government and private sector contributors, aims to attract more than 5,400 out-of-State delegates, generating nearly $23.5 million in economic impact for the State, and will target at least six 1,200-plus delegate conventions,” Tourism Minister Bob Kucera said.

PCEC chief executive Paul D’Arcy said the centre had 134 confirmed bookings, and expected this number would grow.

“There are more and more coming every month,” he said.

“There has been rapid growth in the number of enquiries. There is more confidence and people are more prepared to plan ahead.”

The existing bookings are spread over a five to six-year period following the centre’s scheduled opening on August 27 2004.

They comprise 48 conferences, which were expected to attract more than 36,000 delegates, and 86 exhibitions.

The conferences include six international congresses, each of which will have about 1,500 delegates spending four to five days in Perth.

Mr D’Arcy said spending by international delegates, at about $650 per day, was substantially higher than for domestic delegates.

He said the bookings were spread across a wide range of industries.

The PCEC and the Perth Convention Bureau had agreed to focus their efforts on industries where WA was considered to have world-class expertise.

These include the mining, oil and gas, energy, health services and health research, environment and marine sectors, with the latter covering both boat building and marine ecology.

National Speaker Association spokesperson David Price said demand for professional speakers had increased recently and that he expected international and interstate organisations to choose WA as a destination due to the facilities on offer.

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