04.03.2021Victoria returns to the world stage with major events

Victorians have had more to cheer about lately, with live cultural and sporting events back with a bang.

In a world first, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child reopened at the Princess Theatre last week, 11 months after its forced closure, while the ‘G’ will welcome back footy this month with crowds of up to 50,000 permitted.

These are positive developments for operators and spectators alike.

The Australian Open tennis championship – arguably the jewel in Victoria’s major events calendar – proceeded in February, a great achievement during the middle of a pandemic.

Despite this, the challenges faced by organisers on the eve of the tournament unleashed heated debate over whether the event should proceed.

News that a hotel quarantine worker at a hotel where players and officials were staying, had tested positive to COVID-19, spawned calls for the tournament’s cancellation.

For many, Melbourne could not risk another harsh, extended lockdown to control the virus. Throwing away such hard work for a tennis tournament was simply not on.

For others, it was unconscionable to allow an international cohort priority access to these shores while thousands of Australian citizens waited desperately to return home.

No one would deny that Victorians, particularly Melburnians, went to great lengths in 2020 to control the virus – it was extremely hard on people and businesses.

Public health should always be prioritised. With that and considering the stringent safety protocols in place, Tennis Australia and the Victorian Government made the right decision to proceed with the Australian Open.

It is worth reflecting on the benefits to Melbourne and Victoria that come with hosting major international events, including for the economy and international brand projection.

First, the economy. Prior to COVID-19, large numbers of domestic and international travellers were attracted to Victoria’s world-class major events.

Whether it was the Avalon International Air Show, Australian Open, Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, Spring Racing Carnival or the Rip Curl Pro, visitors would come from far and wide to get a glimpse of the action and enjoy our great State.

At the end of the 2019 financial year, tourism in Victoria was worth an estimated $29 billion to Victoria’s economy, generating 263,300 jobs – 7.8 per cent of the employment in Victoria.[i]

In the year ending March 2020, Melbourne attracted 364,600 more interstate visitors and A$1 billion more visitor expenditure than Sydney.[ii]

In a post-COVID environment, many people from interstate and overseas will still want to see and experience great events. Melbourne and Victoria must ensure that it remains well-positioned to capitalise on this demand.

Furthermore, creative, cultural and sporting industries are a major part of liveable cities and regions. A jam-packed events calendar helps improve access to global talent for local businesses.

Major international cultural and sporting events are not just a key driver of our economy, they are a successful international marketing tool, amplifying our brand globally.

Melbourne does not have a stunning natural harbour with two world-famous architectural wonders to attract visitors from around the world.

What Melbourne does have is eclectic laneways with riotous street art, a vibrant live music scene and café culture and – you guessed it – major sporting and cultural events, which are now intrinsically linked to the city’s identity. It is an identity that must be optimised at every opportunity.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a hyper-competitive world. Plenty of cities, states and jurisdictions around Australia and the world would gladly prise away some of our major events.

Victorians should be acutely aware of the economic and brand benefits that major cultural and sporting events bring. We cannot afford complacency or to dismiss their relevance.

The impacts of COVID-19 cannot be downplayed. Many people have suffered and continue to suffer from the health and economic fallout. But we cannot lose sight of what makes Victoria great. More than ever, we need Victorians to embrace and support the re-emergence of major events.

[i] 2018-19 State Tourism Satellite Accounts produced by Tourism Research Australia, May 2020.

[ii] International Visitor Survey, National Visitor Survey, March 2020, Tourism Research Australia, Canberra, released July 2020.

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