Simon Thewlis, managing director of Event Pty, discusses the challenges faced by the events sector despite its contributions to society and the economy.
Simon Thewlis, managing director of Event Pty, has played an important role in the Australian events sector for more than 40 years. He played a key role in keeping the sector alive during the challenging days of the Covid pandemic but using his experience to rally and unite the industry. Thewlis continues to see big hurdles regarding the lack of understanding of the events sector by governments around the world. He urges all event professionals to value themselves so that politicians and business leaders will come to value the sector.
From Stage Production to Strategic Design
Like many in events, Thewlis began his career in audiovisual production, specifically in lighting. He worked on some of Australia’s largest music festivals, eventually moving up the ranks of stage production to planning logistics and production for entire events. The move to corporate and government events was relatively straightforward. Events for the automotive and retail sectors are some of the most memorable.
Overcoming the Challenges of the Covid Pandemic
Thewlis was part of a core team that formed the Save Victorian Events campaign, a grassroots campaign to mobilize event professionals and highlight the plight of the industry. He was able to use many of the key event planning and marketing skills acquired over the years to highlight the catastrophic impact on the regional industry. The campaign was instrumental in raising the voice of the industry and uniting many different players. It also played a part in securing some financial support, but most importantly, it made the Victorian government formally recognize the events industry. This was Thewlis’ most challenging project to date, and his work is still not done as this lack of recognition as an industry continues to be an issue.
Commonwealth Games Debacle
For Thewlis, the recent decision by the Victorian Government to pull out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games is a clear example of how governments are clueless about the events sector. Thewlis shared his concerns with regional government officials in a Commonwealth Games Senate Inquiry. This was not the first time Thewlis had spoken in a parliamentary inquiry. He also did so in a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of the COVID-19 19 pandemic on the tourism and events sector.
He spoke up about what he considers a complete lack of experience and understanding of events among government officials. The significant issues with logistics and infrastructure planning could have been avoided or mitigated if the host committee had worked with event professionals from the start. Unfortunately, the Victorian government seemed so focused on creating an infrastructural legacy for the region and leveraging the Commonwealth Games as a political tool that it failed to consult with event professionals adequately.
Adequate Representation Needed
Thewlis commented on the recent merger of three events industry associations to form the Australian Business Events Association. While the outside reaction to the merger was positive, in Thewlis’s view, things are not so rosy. The association now folds the needs and concerns of three separate types of members into one, and it is now competing with two other associations, at least one of which is larger and arguably more powerful. There is also an issue of having an independent voice. Thewlis highlights that some leaders of the new association are employed by the government, making it impossible to have a balanced approach on any issues that go against government policy.
Valuing the Events Industry
Ultimately, Thewlis believes that the events industry must be proud of its achievements and fully aware of its contributions to society and the economy. Only in this way can event industry professionals value themselves and communicate their worth. He urges everyone involved in the sector, regardless of role or location, to help build a strong industry reputation by advocating for support and recognition.