OPINION: City scores high with world-class events

IF you could give Newcastle an award for having a world-class feature, what would it be? World-class beaches? Definitely. World-class recreation areas? Without a doubt. A world-class place to live, work and play? For sure.
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But world-class events? It is probably not the first thing that springs to mind about Newcastle. But it should be.

The people of Newcastle have mastered the art of celebration. And the city has now been globally recognised, by the International Festival and Events Association (IFEA), for its ability to stage world-class festivals and events.

The IFEA awards recognise the best in community leadership as well as festival and event partnerships around the world.

Newcastle has been awarded the accolade of 2012 World Festival and Event City in the category of cities with a population under 500,000 people.

Sydney also took out this year’s award in the category for cities with a population of more than 1million. This is unexpected – but a great honour.

Cultural tourism is a growing market, and Newcastle is in an excellent position to take advantage of these opportunities.

Festivals and events create tremendous community and economic capital. And any city needs support from the local community to sustain existing festivals and events, let alone attract and encourage new events.

Newcastle can now fly an internationally recognised flag to show that we have the capacity to provide an environment conducive to successful festivals and events.

Our award bid was prepared by the City of Newcastle and Destination NSW. It featured events such as the Fat as Butter music festival, Surfest, a rugby union Test match we hosted in 2012, the Australian National Beach Volleyball Championships, the Nutri-Grain Iron Man Series, the Australian Surf Rowers League Championships, the NSW State Netball Championships, Civic Theatre’s Inspirations season, and exhibitions at Newcastle Museum and Newcastle Art Gallery. These provide just a snapshot of what we are capable of.

The state government, council, event partners, local industry and community groups, all play a major role in the success of events staged in Newcastle and the Hunter.

Newcastle received nearly 3.3million visitors in the year ending March 2012, of whom around 6.7per cent arrived specifically to attend an event.

With this new emphasis on developing existing events and attracting new major events, we are reaping the benefits of an industry worth about $700million to local economies.

The success of events and festivals in Newcastle is due in no small part to the strong support provided by local residents, volunteers and non-government organisations.

Newcastle embraces events, and the local community consistently goes out of its way to provide many of the services necessary for success. The Hunter Volunteering Centre (HVC) in Newcastle provides direct support to event organisations and encourages and empowers volunteers to contribute. For example, more than 128 student volunteers helped to make Surfest 2012 a success.

The Newcastle business community provides outstanding sponsorship support for major events, whether as financial investment, services ‘‘in kind’’, marketing and media expertise, or event brand enhancement.

The major events of Newcastle could not survive without strong sponsorships. Although this generally comes from international and national companies, local businesses of all sizes in the Newcastle area regularly sponsor events – either financially or through providing services or products.

In 2013 Newcastle will host the Asia Pacific Special Olympic Games, in which 28 countries will compete in a week-long program of events. An estimated 5000-plus visitors will inject more than $21million into our local economy.

The city is also working on attracting more high-profile international events to add to its major events roster.

Our challenge for the next decade is to ensure that we can host events and festivals.

We also hope to attract new tourism operators to the city. This will in turn help build our range of accommodation, activity and destination options.

Phil Pearce is general manager of the City of Newcastle.