How to attract visitors to regional areas with business events
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 his extraordinary work bringing record numbers of visitors to that area of Queensland.
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.
In 2017, the council announced that the area received more international and domestic travellers than ever before. This year, international visitor and expenditure numbers had continued to grow.
Simon attributes a lot of this growth to a shift in focus on business events.
He said, "The NVS (National Visitor Survey) numbers came in for us, just for business and business events alone, we were 43.9% up which is an all-time national record."
"That really surprised us, pleasantly. Particularly being regional Australia, we're restricted, and people would say to me four years ago, they'd bring up seasonal factors and Monday to Friday as problems, and I'd tell them they could change that. They'd look at me like I was an alien and they'd ask 'how?’ I'd say 'business events'."
The value of full support
It's one thing having a clear goal, but without support from those around you it's always going to be a lot harder to achieve them. The best way to get support is through education.
Simon says that when he was trying to get key decision-makers on board with his idea of business events, he paid for them to attend an event in Sydney. Rather than do any hard selling, he let the event talk for itself.
Once they were back in the Sunshine Coast, they asked him what his strategy was and how much he needed to make it happen – and the rest is history.
He said, "Events are really, really important because, firstly, in terms of leisure space we've got it covered. We're probably on the verge of maxed out in terms of leisure and Noosa, in particular, is a great example of that."
"It still doesn't address mid-week or flatter periods of the year. Events are something that four or five years ago we sort of played with until we decided, particularly being regional, we have to positively confront events across the whole spectrum – whether they be business or something else and we went after that with a vengeance."
"Fortunately for us, we are supported by a council that is very supportive of visitation under all its guises and introduced a rates-based levy to give us the funding to pursue events."
How to get started with events
To begin with, Simon identified five key events that would help with two goals: monetary and strategic. These events would either deliver a return on investment or be used to show what the Sunshine Coast could deliver so that they could win bigger events in the future.
One of the main targets was the Australian Event Awards, which had previously been held in Sydney, and that, along with other choice selections, has turned the Sunshine Coast into an area known for its events calendar. It's at the point now where Simon and his team are inundated with offers for events that they're able to freely knock back ideas that don't fit in with the feel of the area.
Simon said, "People say, 'how in God's name did you get the Australian Event Awards out of Sydney on a three-year contract?'"
"And I said 'we'll do it backwards – why we went after it was because we knew that business events could play a really active role in killing mid-week seasonality, in other words reducing it or preferably eliminating it."
"Two, we had to educate our council, state and rate-payers as to 'what is a business event?' by getting it on a three-year contract it was one of the smartest things we did."
To find out more about Simon Latchford's amazing work in the Sunshine Coast and how he used events to boost visitor numbers, book a ticket for The Business of Events on 19 March at Luna Park, Sydney.