For Tracey Edwards, global strategic lead and general manager for Event Travel Management (ETM) Australia & New Zealand, Corporate Travel Management’s specialized Event & Group division, the last half of 2020 saw a return of live events, the word that has stuck with her has been “agility.”
The ETM team spent several months organizing the ninth annual Western Australia Fire and Emergency Services (WAFES) Conference, which brought together 900 members of the state’s fire and emergency services personnel for two days of camaraderie, inspiration, and celebration. Held in Perth on Oct. 16-17, the agenda comprised a welcome sundowner, a daylong conference with a lineup of speakers, an awards gala dinner, and several organized day tours around Perth. In addition, ETM arranged attendees’ flights, transfers, and accommodations.
The ETM team pulled it off flawlessly — but not without having to navigate several challenges. Due to changes in local restrictions on gatherings, the event was postponed three times, requiring ETM to rebook venues three times as well. The scope of the program also kept changing, and in the end the attendance jumped from 700 to 900. What’s more, ETM had to plan and execute the entire program from afar since, at the time, Western Australia’s borders were closed to other states.
“The biggest thing is being agile and being open to change, and understanding that situations can change,” said Edwards, on what helped her and her team navigate planning this event and others over the past few months. She adds that they “have more collaborative discussions than we would normally” with suppliers to ensure no detail is overlooked, especially when it pertains to mitigating risks and creating an environment that is safe and comfortable for attendees.
At the time of the 2020 WAFES Conference, Western Australia had not recorded a single local COVID-19 infection in months, so guidelines on requiring masks and gatherings had relaxed significantly. Still, ETM wanted to ensure the group’s safety. “[We wanted to] give them some confidence and comfort in what we were arranging for them, that we had thought everything through,” Edwards said.
ETM developed a COVID-19 tracing system, which used contactless beacons and apps to report real-time data to the client as well as ETM staff. The client opted to centralize the group to one hotel, choosing a property that they knew would be diligent in adhering to the state’s COVID Safety Plan and Guidelines. “The Western Australia Government’s COVID restrictions changed during the planning process — for this we ensured we had a venue that could either downscale or upscale the capacity as needed without a major impact to planning,” Edwards said. In regard to their supplier contracts, ETM made it a point to include clauses that allowed for flexibility in case the program needed to be postponed.
For attendees, a custom event app pushed out urgent updates in addition to supplying pertinent event information, health and safety protocol, the day-to-day agenda, and a chat function for networking. But for the latter, Edwards said, there was just no denying the power of being face-to-face, which became all the more evident during the group’s sundowner networking event on the first evening. “There’s nothing like it,” she said. “Seeing people come together — the networking opportunities are so incredibly important from a relationship perspective, and from a mentoring perspective — it’s irreplaceable.”
The opportunity to support local tourism operators and attractions also proved meaningful. Attendees could pick from several day tours that focused on Perth’s natural and historical highlights — which were of special interest to the group — including whale watching off the coast, a picnic lunch with up-close animal encounters at the Perth Zoo, and a guided walking tour of Mount Eliza in Kings Park (a hill that overlooks Perth) with an Aboriginal Elder.
The event, one of the largest the state had hosted since the COVID-19 pandemic began, is significant in that it shows how, when conditions are right, in-person events can safely resume. “More than anything, it’s giving confidence to the country that you can run a COVID-safe event,” Edwards said.
To understand what’s possible for business events in Australia during the pandemic, visit Business Events Australia’s Coronavirus for business events webpage.