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Australian Festival Industry Conference charts key future directions

Australian Festival Industry Conference charts key future directions
September 6, 2022

With the festival and events industry having been through a turbulent few years, the recently held Australian Festival Industry Conference delivered the opportunity to hear many positive stories and to reconnect IRL, sharing insights and advice on the future direction for festivals in Australia.

Providing a snapshot of some of the key learnings from the conference sessions, Linda Tillman shares:

Although we may feel like there is digital fatigue, livestreaming events is a great opportunity for festivals to reach a broader market. A great example is Mt Isa Rodeo

Virtual reality
There are exciting opportunities for festivals to use extended realities such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality – the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations, where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Mixed reality does not exclusively take place in either the physical world or virtual world, but is a hybrid of augmented reality and virtual reality. 

Melbourne’s augmented art trail, AR.Trail is a great case study to demonstrate this opportunity (see video below)

VRHAM – Hamburg’s Virtual Reality and Art Festival is a global benchmark in mixed reality and hybrid festivals.

Preparing for natural disasters

  • Risk management used in event planning reduces risk to a tolerable level - we need to balance the event experience.
  • It is not good enough to simply document a plan, you need to rehearse duties and responsibilities within the plan. Walk the site, rehearse scenarios.
  • Use a ‘critical friend’ - a middle ground advisor between an enforcement officer and event organisers who look at the event site and understand the festival

If you want to improve your event’s risk and crisis planning, check out Welcome to Environmental Health Australia by Environmental Health Australia

Leadership and crisis management
The presentation by Stagekings who provide creative stages and structures was very inspiring.

Some words of advice for other organisations and festival teams…

  • Stay agile
  • Continuous improvement - don’t rest once you think you’ve got it right
  • It’s ok to make mistakes - just don’t give up
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Train staff and be transparent with them
  • Don’t rely on one source of income
  • Vertically integrate
  • The most important thing is your people - your key to success
  • Own every aspect of the business

Jeremy Fleming, Director of Stagekings, recommends Extreme Ownership as a must-read if you want inspiration on leadership and crisis management. 

Igniting your festival’s creative program
Gill Minervini, Director of Vivid Sydney, reminded us that creativity and events are like a fire - look after it and it will prosper, leave it and it will fizzle out. She also shared the following tips for festivals organisers (among many other great insights):

  • Make space for creativity
  • Question everything!!
  • Expose yourself to new experiences
  • Think outside your box – it can be small things outside of what you normally do
  • One size doesn’t fit all
  • Can you make a new thing out of an old thing?
  • When do you have time to get new ideas? Are you aware of when you have new ideas? e.g. running, in the shower, walking the dog
  • It’s when you create a 360 degree experience that you immerse people in it - consider all the senses
  • We are in the business of making memories for people - don’t forget that!

 Workforce skills and labour shortages

  • The crisis facing the industry right now is lack of skilled event staff - we cannot operate our events without them….will we have to scale back our events to handle this?
  • The Queensland Government now has a job site for tourism and hospitality: 
  • TAFE Queensland have a relationship with several events – working on events is an assessable task for the students
  • Youth are looking for flexibility in employment – our work opportunities need to be flexible
  • As an industry we need to agitate government for support

TIP: Reach out to your local TAFE campus and ask to speak to the events teacher – they always have students looking for work experience


  • The universal principle around access is, if you get it right for people with a disability, you get it right for everyone.
  • Be dignified when considering accessibility i.e. don’t have an accessible entrance around the back in a dark alley
  • Your accessibility plan should act as a roadmap. Make it realistic and achievable but with some aspiration/stretch goals
  • It’s important that you empower your team (staff, volunteers, suppliers, artists, third party providers) on disability access and inclusion

In the must-watch and touching video (above), people with a hearing impairment, visual impairment, wheelchair, and autism/anxiety/assistant dog share their top tips for event organisers. Share this video with your staff and volunteers!

Inspirational examples of festivals placing accessible and diversity at the forefront:

  • Perth Festival’s Disability and Access Plan (scroll down for the link to the plan)
  • Sydney World Pride 
  • Glastonbury - check out the side menu on the right

New products for festivals
Gardian EMS - a world-class medical solution for emergency response teams
Luigi - casual staff recruitment for volunteer and staff onboarding and recruitment
Ferve Tickets - these guys are not new, but they are worth a shout out here for the great work they do for festivals

The conference’s social functions were excellent and a great opportunity to network with industry peeps.

Australian Festival Industry Conference included:

  • Keynotes and presentations from 15 industry-leading professionals, including a presentation on managing revenue streams by rEVENTS Academy’s Linda Tillman
  • Panel discussions on COVID planning and safety; and Workforce skills and labour shortages
  • Two evening networking events
  • Three workshops, including one on applying for grants by rEVENTS Academy’s Linda Tillman
  • A trade expo
  • A familiarisation tour of Gold Coast’s HOTA – ‘Home of the Arts’

Image top: Australian Festival Industry Conference Day 2 attendees

About the author

Linda Tillman

Managing Director, Tilma Group Pty Ltd

Since 2008, Linda Tillman has been combining her skills in tourism development, destination marketing and event management, with a passion for regional and rural Australia to grow Tilma Group, a boutique regional tourism and events agency servicing clients throughout regional Australia.

Tilma Group employs a dedicated, professional and highly skilled team that works with businesses and organisations of all sizes to achieve one common goal - growing regional and rural Australia! Developing and promoting the industry excites me and every achievement, big or small, drives me to go the extra mile to achieve the best results for my clients and the industry.

Linda previously worked in tourism, events and development roles in the government, education and private sectors, is a board member on the Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN),  a judge and mentor for the NSW and Queensland Tourism Awards, and has presented on rural tourism and sustainable events at conferences and summits.

Her current role takes here across the nation, providing services to local government, regional and state tourism organisations, event committees and small business.

Click here to visit the Tilma Group website.

Read more from this author

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