Diversity and Inclusion

New Guide Helps Events Support First Nations Peoples

National Indigenous Culinary Institute at AIME 2023

Skift Take

The Melbourne Convention Bureau is supporting First Nations Peoples with a new guide that helps event organizers add cultural depth to their events while making a positive social impact.

The Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB) has launched the First Peoples Engagement Guide. The guide aims to connect meetings and event planners with locally and indigenous-owned suppliers and businesses.

“Previously, the indigenous communities have been very well acknowledged at the start of conferences,” said MCB Chief Executive Officer Julia Swanson. “But perhaps those communities were not really embedded into the events that occur in the city in terms of experiences, in terms of speakers and in terms of the supply chain.” MCB’s new program aims to bridge that gap. 

For example, the guide seeks to make it simpler for planners to arrange for a Welcome to Country ceremony. It can also help plan other activities related to First Nations Peoples, such as Aboriginal-guided walking tours along Melbourne’s Birrarung Marr. 

The MCB created the guide in alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “We use SDGs as a reference point in terms of the types of events that we bid for. We look at it in terms of legacy outcomes of business events while having the lowest impact on the environment,” said Swanson.  

Ceremonies and Cultural Experiences 

The guide highlights ceremonies such as the Welcome to Country Ceremony by Aboriginal Traditional Owners. A Welcome to Country ceremony or Acknowledgement of Country opens most large events in Australia. The full ceremony includes speeches, traditional dance or smoking ceremonies.

The guide also includes single or two-day culture adventure experiences that allow attendees to explore natural scenery outside of Melbourne, enjoy lunch and tour galleries of aboriginal art before enjoying dinner at Interlude – a 100% Aboriginal woman-owned restaurant.  

“There’s a multitude of experiences across Victoria. So the convention bureau, we have a dedicated planning team that can assist with bespoke itineraries and introductions,” Swanson said.

Indigenous Event Suppliers 

The engagement guide contains resources for planners at every stage of production, including sourcing venues, curating activations, sourcing MCs and keynote speakers and everything in between.

A local grassroots effort involving the Victorian government working with First Nations Peoples initially created the connection with the MCB. This since led to discovering many more indigenous-owned businesses through various channels.

The demand for First Peoples-led suppliers has increased in recent years. The guide provides practical information to connect with talented performers and businesses to elevate their events. 

“We’ve started with the guide, and we’re getting a lot of interest from that, and it gives us the opportunity to look at our forward platform of events,” Swanson said. According to Swanson, Melbourne has 171 events booked up to 2028. These events create ample opportunity for organizations to connect with indigenous-owned businesses and suppliers.

MCB’s work with First Nations Peoples to create the guide began in 2023 during the Asia Pacific Meetings and Incentive Event (AIME). The MCB’s booth focused on highlighting the region’s cultural depth. It featured live Yidaki performances by Kiernan Ironfield every morning. The top floor of the booth transformed into a Yarning Area with a café serving coffee. It served Blak Brews tea and sweet treats by Jarrah Catering and a number of other vendors offering a taste of indigenous flavor. 

“They’re absolutely phenomenal businesses,” Swanson said. “Many of them are in the startup phase – and if we aim to give them a hand in creating a bit of a platform and introduce them to new clients to help their business grow.”

Attracting Business to the Region

The Bureau continued the collaboration during AIME 2024 by working with Little Rocket that created vibrant art to decorate the interior and exterior of the booth, along with Alchemy Orange that supplied architectural floral arrangements. 

AIME, owned by the MCB, is the largest event for the industry in the Asia-Pacific region and has been running for 31 years. This year, the event featured 570 exhibitors, 600 buyers and roughly 4,000 trade visitors.

“This event garners clients with their budgets, and they’re ready to do business and the exhibitors that come to demonstrate what they’re doing,” Swanson said, adding that AIME provides an excellent platform to highlight the businesses of First Nation Peoples. 

According to the MCB, buyers placed an estimated $130 million [$200 million AUD] in business during AIME in 2023.

Photo credit: Melbourne Convention Bureau / Melbourne Convention Bureau