Start-Up for an Annual Business Event
How Wagga Wagga utilised its event expertise as an entrepreneurial opportunity to create an annual conference. A new event was launched ……And it was all about events!
In 2016, with Regional NSW preparing for a concerted push to increase its share of the national events industry, a new event customised to the needs of regional event professionals and stakeholders seemed like a timely addition to the NSW event calendar.
The 2016 NSW Regional Events Conference was the first conference of its kind in NSW. It presented a much-needed opportunity for the regional event community to get together to hear presentations and discuss issues that were highly relevant to the unique challenges of their operating environments.
Recent case studies of successful (and not so successful) events, issues associated with funding and sponsorship, volunteerism and securing major events for regional centres were high on the agenda. So too were networking opportunities, thought-provoking and constructive discussions, and a lively social program.
It proved to be a recipe for success; the event itself was a textbook example of how to launch an annual business event. The detailed and constructive feedback from its audience of event professionals ensured its continued evolution in coming years.
Making a Start
The idea behind this conference came from the industry. Wagga Wagga-based Professional Conference Organiser (PCO), Belinda King, was frustrated by an absence of regional-specific professional development opportunities.
She took the idea for a regional events conference to the Wagga Wagga City Council who encouraged her to apply for sponsorship support to get the conference up and running. Destination NSW and the Australian Centre for Event Management also came onboard with the partners providing both cash sponsorship and in-kind assistance. Regional Development Australia-Riverina (RDA-Riverina) also added sponsorship for two young people aged 18-35 to attend the conference.
It was an encouraging response and recognised the importance of the regional events industry and its role in driving growth in overnight visitation to the State’s coastal and inland communities.
For Wagga Wagga, it was also an opportunity to showcase the city’s excellent facilities and involve the community in celebrating the importance of the events industry - not just for the local economy but also for its contribution in increasing the amenity and livability of the city.
It’s All in the Detail
The professional approach to the conference was evident in the attention to detail by organisers: a professional MC was engaged; the venue was the Riverina Playhouse Theatre, selected for its amenity and because it was a non-traditional venue which enabled the organisers to dress the stage in a stylish, intimate and contemporary manner; the concept behind the catering was to showcase local food and produce, reflective of the Riverina - a barista and coffee truck were engaged to deliver quality lattes to delegates during breaks.
The conference also deployed a very thorough marketing program with strong use of social media to generate awareness of the event among targeted professional groups. The speakers program took a practical approach with grass roots events organisers sharing their insights with their regional colleagues.
A Site Inspection in a Social Program
Although no formal pre- and post-conference touring was scheduled, organisers cleverly structured the social program as an opportunity to showcase some of Wagga Wagga’s diverse event venues to its audience of event professionals.
The relaxed, formality-free welcome reception took place at local boutique brewery, The Thirsty Crow, where delegates sampled a selection of brews that ranged from crisp lagers to sweet stouts. As a contrast, the conference dinner was staged at former Anglican Church, St Edwards of the Riverina, an historic property located near the Mallabo Ranges and surrounded by lush country gardens.
One networking breakfast took place in a popular dining establishment. Run by a local farmer and his wife, Uneke Lounge is a contemporary re-purposing of an historic building with high ceilings, exposed brick and an elegant sun-filled courtyard. Patrons can read a book, enjoy good food and coffee, and shop a large range of homewares, jewellery, furniture and clothing. Needless to say, it was very popular with multi-tasking event delegates.
The other conference breakfast took place at the newly-enhanced Riverside Precinct, which has connected the Wagga Wagga CBD with the riverbanks and sandy beaches of the Murrumbidgee River; it is now a popular outdoor event venue.
A key objective of the inaugural Regional Events Conference was to ensure that it would continue as an annual business development event for the regional events industry. It was vital that it engender strong enthusiasm amongst its delegates and that their feedback would be taken onboard to improve future conference programs.
All aspects of the event were canvassed and, given the expertise of delegates, feedback was both constructive and forensic in its detail. Areas for improvement included the availability of Wi-Fi within conference venues; requests for workshops to be included at future events; a slightly less-crowded speaker program; plus more time allowed to explore the host destination.
Generally, the organisers got it very right; the 25 presenters were well received, as was the social program; 98.2% of delegates surveyed were very satisfied or satisfied with the event; and 100% said they would attend a future regional conference event.
Feedback on the host destination was extremely positive with delegates rating its convenient regional location, attractive atmosphere, local restaurants, venues and revitalisated Riverside Precinct as highlights. Although the question of moving the event to another location was canvassed, most respondents suggested that it stay in Wagga Wagga and voiced their support with comments such as:
“Keep it in Wagga for while” and “Wagga clearly does events well” and “Don’t let it move elsewhere.”
The most telling success of the conference is that it is now on its way to becoming an annual event and will continue to support an industry which is bringing strong economic and social benefits to regional communities. The 2017 Regional Events Conference incorporated many of the suggestions provided by its inaugural conference audience – including to host it again in Wagga Wagga.