When Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) announced its new partnership with C2 International at IMEX Frankfurt in May, MCEC chief executive Peter King described it as “the most significant announcement in my time”. This 'time' covers a six-year stint at the helm, including a 20,000 sqm expansion that will cement MCEC’s position as the largest convention and exhibition space in Australia.
The partnership will enable the venue to provide clients with highly customisable and unique experiences through C2’s experiential design platform and signature 'labs'. “Together with C2, we’ll work to transform our industry and reinvent the role venues play,” he added.
MCEC is not the only traditional stakeholder looking at creative new ways of doing business. Event agencies such as Pico are founding innovation hubs and startup incubators, while convention bureaus are offering seed funding or even buying event franchises to bring in regional editions.
For venues though, the key trends driving innovation have been a sharp rise in the number of smaller events, one-stop-shop solutions, the convergence of conferences and exhibitions and a changing of key partners such as having an in-house PCO.
We’re also seeing new players and business models, such as GL Events, which manages more than 40 venues around the world, is the largest events supplier in Europe and owns 300 trade and consumer fairs. The Lyon-headquartered company recently announced a partnership to open the Guangzhou International Convention Centre in 2020.
Oscar Cerezales, chief strategy officer, MCI Group, based in Singapore, predicts that 80% of the events held in tier-one convention centres will be events that didn’t exist two years ago.
Though the number of events worldwide is growing rapidly, the average size is much smaller.
"The big annual conference market is saturated, it’s not growing. The International Society of Cardiology is still organising one annual event, not five. But what is growing is all these smaller events.
“Traditionally the whole value chain has been very clear in its priorities, they want to attract big annual events whether association or corporate. But now because of saturation and increased competition, the margins are decreasing so everyone is trying to create their own assets. We will see things like joint ventures grow 25-fold.”
In order to meet changing market demands, convention and exhibition centres have become more flexible – both in terms of hardware and software.
“There’s a number of creative ideas that convention centres are looking at,” says Geoff Donaghy, CEO, ICC Sydney. “The approach that we take is that even though our venue is called a ‘Convention and Exhibition Centre’, we’re basically in the business of any large gathering, any high-tech gathering, and we’ll address that and see if we can come up with mutually beneficial solutions for clients who have got ideas. We don’t see any boundaries in terms of the events that can be held here.”
Indeed. For the Sydney International Boat Show last year, its 5,000-sqm event deck was home to three supersize pools.
But the venue has not begun creating its own assets, seeing that as more of a destination role. Cerezales agrees, and predicts destinations will own recurrent events representing 20% of the total economic impact of events within five years.
“We haven’t gone down the path of seed funding or owning events ourselves,” says Donaghy. “Certainly in Australia that’s not as common a concept as it is in Asia and particularly in Europe.
“Sydney Convention Bureau, who we work very closely with, provide appropriate amounts of subvention for international events they wish to attract to Sydney that are compatible with the economic development goals of the state.”
There are also other factors at play. Rod Cameron, executive director of the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC), says: “Most centres see their role as sticking primarily to their core business, but any number of factors can shift the equation.
"Some centres are specifically mandated – or at least encouraged – to not compete with local businesses as a condition of funding. But while this is necessary to maintain a competitive position, it usually ends up as being to the benefit of all if the result is more event business being brought into the destination."