Friday, February 23, 2024

Newcastle back in the conference business

Large-scale business events have returned to Newcastle following a COVID-enforced industry hiatus, with more than 360 delegates currently in the city attending the 2022 RSL NSW Annual State Congress (pictured) this week.

The two-day conference which wraps up today at the Newcastle Convention and Exhibition Centre follows on from the International Conference on Emerging Advanced Nanomaterials earlier this month, which featured leading scientific figures including three Nobel Laureates and attracted more than 500 delegates over five days, representing approximately $1 million in economic value.

Both conferences were supported by City of Newcastle Council’s event sponsorship program as part of a strategic push to capture more of the lucrative business events market, which contributed over $10.4 billion annually to the NSW economy, prior to the pandemic.

Newcastle Lord Mayor, Nuatali Nelmes said with COVID-19 restrictions now ended, the city was starting to see a growing number of face-to-face business events returning.

“In March 2020, the business events industry ground to a halt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving in-person events impacted by the necessary ongoing public health orders and restrictions,” Lord Mayor Nelmes said.

“However, there is now renewed optimism amongst the industry and demand to return to gathering face-to-face.

“This is welcome news for our city with business events a significant contributor to Newcastle’s visitor economy through the tourism, hospitality and events sectors, with the RSL NSW Annual State Congress alone expected to generate approximately 750 room nights for local hotels and deliver more than $300,000 in economic benefit.”

Newcastle has already secured multiple business events for 2023 that will cater for between 200 and 400 delegates each, including conferences for the Australian Museums and Galleries Association, Australian College of Emergency Medicine, Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia and, Australian Christian Churches as well as the joint NSW Coastal Conference and National Coast to Coast Conference.

Lord Mayor Nelmes said Newcastle was perfectly placed to accommodate large-scale business events, with first-class conferencing and meeting facilities at privately owned and Council-run venues, while the opening of two five-star hotels added a new level of luxury to the city’s accommodation choices.

RSL NSW President, Ray James said the quality of amenities on offer and the city’s rich military history made Newcastle the obvious choice for the RSL NSW Annual State Congress.

“In consultation with its sub-Branches, RSL NSW selected Newcastle to host one of the ex-service organisation’s largest events due to the city’s first-class conference venues, accommodation options, recreational facilities, and transport options available to members from across the state,” Mr James said.

“The visiting delegates will take the opportunity to visit the city’s various war memorials and museums to commemorate and pay their respects to the fallen.”

Lord Mayor Nelmes said Council was strategically focussed on increasing business tourism through the Newcastle Destination Management Plan.

“Of the 5.1 million visitors welcomed to Newcastle in 2019, business travellers represented 22 per cent of both domestic and international overnight stays, with hotel occupancy levels consistently averaging 80 per cent mid-week,” she said.

“Tourism Australia research indicates that business travellers spend 74 per cent more per night on average compared to leisure visitors.”

Council is a long-standing member of the Australian Association of Convention Bureaux and works with local and state partners including the University of Newcastle and Destination NSW to identify, bid for, and secure business events.

When it comes to the future of business events, Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock said the region’s potential to host large-scale international events is gearing up.

“Newcastle Airport is growing, and from 2024 our expanded terminal will have the ability to welcome hundreds of thousands of international passengers annually as a result of airfield upgrades that will cater to larger aircraft including Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s,” Dr Cock said.

“This will enable direct flights between Newcastle and destinations in Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.

“Newcastle’s future as an international tourism and major events destination is bright, and the Federal Government’s $55 million funding towards the expansion of Newcastle Airport’s terminal and $66 million towards the airfield upgrade will be instrumental in transitioning Newcastle from a thriving regional centre to an emerging global city.

“Combined with the arrival of two new luxury hotels including The Kingsley and QT Newcastle, Newcastle’s appeal as a host destination for large-scale international business events is becoming even more attractive,” he said.

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