Lyn Lewis-Smith,
Business Events Sydney

Culture’s Role in Attracting Bright Minds to Sydney

Bright minds, big city, buffed galleries and bronzed beaches: Sydney shines as a well-rounded metropolis with heart, soul, intelligence, creativity, drive and a little irreverence.

In the words of Lonely Planet:

‘It’s little wonder that Sydney causes a brain drain on the rest of Australia. Like New York, London and Berlin, this is a place that draws in anyone who’s got something interesting to say. Australia’s best musos, foodies, actors, stockbrokers and models, writers and architects flock to the Harbour city to make their mark, and the effect is dazzling: a hyper-energetic, ambitious marketplace of the soul, where anything goes and everything usually does.’

This is Sydney.

This is the city that we at Business Events Sydney (BESydney), have the pleasure of selling to the world. That is, the business world. We bid against other international cities for the right to host strategically relevant conferences, meetings and incentive programs. People attend these international events to learn, collaborate, drive innovation and build global networks. We know that they are also lured by the opportunity to explore Australian arts and culture.

Business travellers want to experience the city on all of these levels, to see the depth and texture Sydney has to offer. Culture matters: it impacts on the city’s international reputation, businesses’ ability to attract talent, and of course tourism.

According to the FutureBrand Country Brand Index, the most important factors—aspects that truly differentiate a country brand— are its associations and attributes across five key dimensions: Value System, Quality of Life, Good for Business, Heritage and Culture and Tourism. So things that make people’s lives better.

When deciding where to holiday, live or work, people have images of a city in their minds. The Reputation Institute’s modelling also demonstrates that a city that knows how to effectively manage its reputation can attract more tourists, greater investment or a bigger influx of talent. These outcomes are closely linked to business events.

A number of studies by Business Events Sydney and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) explore business events as economic drivers. The Beyond Tourism Benefits 1 suite of research clearly demonstrates that conventions and congresses—in addition to driving value for the visitor economy—provide opportunities that fuel trade, investment, talent attraction and more. These benefits ultimately impact positively on productivity.

Ranking Australia’s number one business event destination, 6th in Asia Pacific and 25th globally 2 is positive reinforcement for the work BESydney has been doing to align its strategic bidding activity with New South Wales’ (NSW) broader economic development. It is also a strong indicator that the city is working together effectively—the cities with the best reputations are those that have been able to maintain balance and leadership across sectors.

It’s important that this continues and that Sydney hones its ability to collaborate and work with broader city goals in mind. It’s essential that we maintain a culture that attracts bright minds to our shores.

In 2016, close to 810,000 international business visitors were welcomed to Australia. Of these, conference and convention arrivals account for over 25% 3 , and NSW maintains the highest market share with almost 50% arriving via Sydney 4 .

These are big numbers with big impact. As mentioned, the events that BESydney secures for NSW deliver visitor economy benefits well beyond the conference days with valuable pre and post touring. In addition the knowledge economy benefits are far reaching, influencing our current and future business and educational leaders, and of course our global reputation.

BESydney’s research also shows that business visitors spend over six times more money than the average leisure tourist 5 . They are also generally highly educated, looking for authentic experiences that will challenge and inspire, and open minds and hearts.

Landmark events including Vivid Sydney, Handa’s Opera on the Harbour, Sydney Festival, and the Sydney International Art Series are just a few cultural highlights that attract international patronage. Experiences like these delight and inspire business visitors. This is why we work with some of Australia’s most respected cultural institutions to showcase Sydney’s wider cultural offering to the world: Sydney Opera House, Opera Australia and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences are three of BESydney’s strategic partners.

It is Sydney’s ability to attract switched-on thinkers, creative collaborators and vibrant trailblazers—resident and visiting—to an environment that encourages fresh thinking, that makes it a great destination for successful conferences. We need to continue to develop Sydney’s destination ‘pull’.

In addition to continued collaboration and leadership across sectors, Sydney needs to make it easy for business people to engage with our after work culture. BESydney strongly supports the creation of a cultural pass that would allow visitors entrance to multiple cultural institutions. This would make Sydney’s world-class galleries, theatres and festivals much more accessible to time poor, international business visitors, who we know are looking for diverse and rich experiences.

A recent report commissioned by the Committee for Sydney benchmarked Sydney against 32 of its ‘peer cities’: cities comparable in size, average income, international orientation and quality of life. Sydney ranked in the top 10 for culture and diversity 6 . This is not a surprise. Sydney’s cultural offering is world-class. What is needed now is the thought and planning to enable visitors to walk through the door more easily. In addition to a one-stop-shop cultural pass, other initiatives such as late night openings and connecting cultural institutions to our transport card system for easy admission fee payment, and more, could have great impact.

Successful global cities need soul. They need culture. If transformation and change reflect the constant evolution of a city’s culture, then Sydney is well placed to strengthen its standing as a major cultural capital in the Asia Pacific region.

Developments including the expansion of the Art Gallery of NSW; Sydney Living Museum’s plan to create a heritage precinct along Macquarie Street, with new museums and hotel facilities; and the City of Sydney’s Cultural Ribbon project—a nature and culture walk along the harbour foreshore from the Maritime Museum to Woolloomooloo, engaging with some of the city’s foremost cultural attractions, are all worthwhile and valid projects for the city to support.

Neighbouring the Maritime Museum is the new International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney), a world-class facility, and one of the tools we use to sell Sydney as an international events destination. The building is only part of the story—the surrounding Darling Harbour precinct, a reinvigorated hub of dining and entertainment that sits alongside the world’s largest natural harbour—is equally as important.

The precinct offers a place to enjoy our culture in all its various forms. It is also at the heart of Sydney’s innovation culture, with universities, over 60% of Australia’s start-ups and creative industries’ employment, Google and other leading businesses, just a stone’s throw away.

This heady mix is essential for the international bids Business Events Sydney prepares—strategies that attract leading minds to learn and share, businesses to invest, and global talent to choose Sydney. Sydney needs to be so much more than just a nice place to do business.

We must continue to foster relevant experiences, activities and precincts—not just Culture, with a capital ‘C’. It’s up to all of us to shape our city. What do we want to achieve? Who do we want to be? As a city, what’s our place in the world?

Culture includes a group’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits. What we believe, do and say is important.

What do you want for our city? Would you say it aloud?

I want us to keep sparking Sydney’s unique mix of adventure, entrepreneurship and a thirst for the unknown that makes our city great. A city where truly, anything goes.

As leaders it is up to us to set that culture.

  1. University of Technology Sydney, 2011, Beyond Tourism Benefits: Measuring the Social Legacies of Business Events.

  2. International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Global City Rankings, 2016.

  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016, Overseas Arrivals and Departures, September 2016.

  4. Tourism & Transport Forum, 2016, Overseas Arrivals, September 2016.

  5. Asian incentive events in New South Wales: expenditure and retail impact. BESydney with University of Technology Sydney. 2015.

  6. The Committee for Sydney, 2016, First Amongst Equals: Benchmarking Sydney’s Performance.