Dave Cairns, Geelong Advertiser
August 10, 2020
In the second part of a series looking at the challenges for the region’s battling visitor economy during COVID-19, Dave Cairns looks at how the city’s leading business events venue is dealing with the crisis.
Geelong Football Club hospitality and conference arm Higher Mark is looking to innovate and adapt as it deals with the impact of COVID-19.
The award-winning business events operator is exploring the launch of a home delivery service for online events, such as school graduation ceremonies, and making creative use of the function spaces at GMHBA Stadium to accommodate the lucrative business events market as it emerges from the lockdowns.
General manager of food and beverage Andre Smaniotto said that like all hospitality venues, Higher Mark had to adapt, particularly with social distancing to be the “new norm” for some time yet.
With COVID-19 restrictions unlikely to be eased to allow mass gatherings in a single room, the future of business events appeared likely to feature presentations being streamed into multiple rooms.
“We are very fortunate to have that technology and to also have so much space,” Mr Smaniotto said.
He said the 1000-capacity function space in the Brownlow Stand could be easily divided into smaller sections and other spaces could also be activated.
While the market remains cautious with tighter lockdowns in place, Mr Smaniotto said that as restrictions eased Higher Mark, the winner of the business events venues category at last year’s Victorian Tourism Awards, was ready to talk to businesses about how to adapt to meet their needs.
It has about 50 full-time staff, and a host of casuals that comprise about 80 per cent of its workers, on JobKeeper.
“We keep in contact with our staff and keep morale going as we start looking at different ways to create some revenue,” Mr Smaniotto said. “We have to start being a bit creative.”
But he said the government needed to look at incentivising business events into the future.
“Hospitality is going to need some form of government assistance,” he said.
“Everybody is waiting to see what is going to happen after the six-week lockdown.
“What I am worried about is that companies will not have as much money to attend functions.”
He said the State Government needed to look at incentivising businesses to attend and book business events that had a significant impact on the local economy through direct employment, supporting local suppliers and by attracting visitors.
On Cats’ match days alone, Higher Mark usually prepares 3500 to 4000 corporate meals.
At a local level, the City of Greater Geelong has recognised the importance of business events to the region’s battling visitor economy, supporting the Business Events Procurement Program through its COVID Community and Economic Support Package.
Tourism Greater Geelong and the Bellarine acting executive director Tracy Carter said the program would provide incentives for large conferences.
“The program, managed by our Business Events Geelong team, will identify and proactively seek out appropriately sized conferences and use the funding to leverage the destination and encourage forward bookings for when events are allowed, while supporting local suppliers’ cash flow sooner,” Ms Carter said.
“The current lockdown situation is a challenge as business event organisers adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude.
“Our planning and early engagement means that when they’re ready to book, we’re front of mind with a compelling offer.”