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Attracting visitors to regional areas with business events

Posted on December 12th, 2019 in Blog, Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership, Memorable Experiences, Speaker Interview

All across Australia, there are teams dedicated to bringing in visitors – both domestically and internationally – to their cities and towns.

Many have cottoned on to the idea of events as a lure, whether that’s sporting, cultural or food related. However, not all have made good use of business events as an attraction.

We spoke to Simon Latchford, the CEO of Visit Sunshine Coast, about the innovative work being done to attract record visitor numbers to the area known affectionately as the ‘Sunny Coast’.

The importance of events in the Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast is a hidden gem, until recently perhaps. Like much of regional Australia, this area often gets overlooked in favour of the bigger cities.

However, in recent years, the Sunshine Coast has been breaking all manner of records for visitor numbers.

The latest statistics released by Tourism Research Australia for the year end June 2019 show the Sunshine Coast led Queensland in overseas visitor growth with a record 322,000 international visitors, up 5.3 per cent for the year. Domestic visitation was also up 17.1 per cent for the same period, with a record 3.98 million visitors.

Visit sunshine coast

Simon said the positive figures can be attributed to the collaborate efforts by Sunshine Coast Council, Tourism and Events Queensland, Visit Sunshine Coast and its local partners to drive major events to the region.

“The latest National Visitor Survey (NVS) figures show business and business events travel alone has increased by 43.9 per cent for the year to 374,000 visitors, an all-time record for the Sunshine Coast,” he said.

“By growing our business events sector we can go a long way towards combating seasonality on the Sunshine Coast, with Monday to Friday and off-peak seasons traditionally quieter periods for the region. New events, attractions, accommodation providers and infrastructure, such as the newly opened Sunshine Coast Convention Centre and the expansion of Sunshine Coast Airport – with an international-capable runway opening in May 2020 – all provide new and enhanced reasons for travellers to visit the Sunshine Coast in what is a globally competitive market.”

The value of full support

It’s one thing having a clear strategy, but without support via good partnerships it is always going to be considerably harder to achieve results. One of the initial best ways to get support is through education.

Simon said that when they were getting decision makers on board regarding the importance of business events on the Sunshine Coast he invited them to attend the Australian Event Awards in Sydney. Rather than do any hard selling, he let the event talk for itself. The rest is history.

“Events are really important because while we could sell the region two times over during peak periods, the challenge becomes addressing mid-week or flatter periods of the year,” he said.

“Four or five years ago the Sunshine Coast was only just starting to develop an events structure. Since then it has positively morphed to include event offerings across the whole spectrum – whether they be business, sporting, culinary or cultural. Team Sunshine Coast went after those categories with a vengeance.

“Fortunately for the Sunshine Coast tourism industry we are very well supported by Sunshine Coast Council which understands the importance of visitation under all its guises and introduced a rates-based levy for the tourism sector to grow leisure and pursue events. In fact, the unique Sunshine Coast Events Board was created and funded by Sunshine Coast Council to help position the region as a leading events destination in Australia.”

How to get started with events

Attention then turned to growing the business events sector on the Sunshine Coast. Five strategic key events were identified for the region with a clear goal in mind: to build awareness of the region as a business events destination and increase visitation. These events were targeted to either deliver a return on investment or be used to showcase the Sunshine Coast’s unique offerings, such as natural amphitheatres, to secure new events in the future.

For example, one of the strategic targets was the Australian Event Awards and Symposium, held on the Sunshine Coast for three consecutive years from 2016-2018. The Awards had previously been held in Sydney, and their arrival to the Sunshine Coast helped turn the region in to an area known for its business events calendar.

“People say, ‘how did you get the Australian Event Awards out of Sydney on a three-year contract?’,” Simon said.

“We went after it because we knew that business events could play a really active role in combating mid-week seasonality on the Sunshine Coast. However, our primary selling point that got the deal across the line was the natural collection of experiences that our beautiful region has to offer which, when pitched appropriately, can give us an edge over traditional metropolitan options.”

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