How organizers in Australia are Navigating Return to Live Events
Tracey Edwards is the global strategic leader and general manager of Event Travel Management (ETM), Australia & New Zealand. She also manages Corporate Travel Management’s specialized Event & Group Division. As the second half of 2020 saw the return of live events in Australia, the word that sticks with her most is “agility.”
The ninth annual Western Australia Fire and Emergency Services Conference (WAFES), was organized by the ETM team over several months. It brought together nearly 900 emergency and fire service personnel from the state for two days filled with camaraderie and inspiration. The conference was held in Perth from Oct 16-17. It featured a welcome sundowner and a full day of conferences with speakers. There was also an awards dinner and organized day tours. ETM also arranged for attendees’ accommodations, flights, and transfers.
For 2020 WAFES Conference attendees could enjoy a sundowner reception at Burswood On Swan, a Perth waterfront venue, to meet and network while also viewing the new fleet.
It was a flawless job by the ETM team, but it wasn’t without navigating many challenges. The event was delayed three times due to local restrictions, and ETM had to rebook venues three more times. In the end, the number of attendees jumped from 700 up to 900. ETM also had to plan the program and execute it from far away because Western Australia was closed to all other states at that time.
Edwards shared her insights on how she and her team managed to plan this event, as well as other events, over the past months. Edwards says that she has had “more collaborative discussions than usual” with suppliers to make sure that no detail is missed, particularly when it comes to mitigating risk and creating a safe and comfortable environment for attendees.
The 2020 WAFES Conference was held in Perth, Australia. Western Australia hadn’t recorded any COVID-19 infections for months. Therefore, guidelines regarding gatherings and masks were significantly relaxed. ETM still wanted to ensure safety for the group. Edwards stated that ETM wanted to give the group some assurance and comfort about what they were planning for them.
ETM created a COVID-19 tracking system that used contactless beacons, apps and other technologies to provide real-time data to both the client and ETM staff. The client chose to centralize the group at one hotel and selected a property that would adhere to the state’s COVID Safety Plan, Guidelines. Edwards stated that the COVID restrictions of the Western Australia Government changed during the planning process. Edwards explained that they made sure to have a venue that could scale up or down the capacity as required without having a significant impact on planning. ETM included clauses in their supplier contracts that allowed for flexibility, just in case the program had to be canceled.
A custom event app was created to provide updates for attendees. It also provided pertinent information about the event, safety protocol, day-to-day schedule, and a chat function that allowed them to network. Edwards stated that there is no denying the power and importance of meeting face-to-face. This was evident at the sundowner networking event. She said, “There’s nothing quite like it.” “Seeing people get together — the networking opportunities can be so incredibly valuable from a relationship perspective and from a mentoring perspective — they are irreplaceable.”
The 2020 WAFES Conference offered several kinds of experiences around Perth, including a tour of the 19th-century-era Fremantle Prison, a day of leisure on stunning Rottnest Island (above), and a boating excursion along the Western Australian coastline to spot Humpback Whales on their annual migration.
It was also a great opportunity to support local tourism attractions and operators. The group could choose from a variety of day tours that explored Perth’s historical and natural highlights. This included whale watching off the coast, a picnic lunch at the Perth Zoo and a guided walking tour through Kings Park, Mount Eliza (a hill that overlooks Perth).