Rockhampton’s Beef Week, to be held every 2 years

The Beef Australia committee is surveying the public to gauge opinions on whether the Rockhampton Beef Week event should become biennial (every second year) rather than triennial (every 3 years).

Attending Beef Week at Rockhampton costs me more than $5,000 to attend as an exhibitor:  not much short of $1,000 in accommodation (6 nights, scalper rates in a caravan park cabin – booked more than 12 months prior), $3,000 in tradefair site fees (booked 9 months prior), and more than $1,000 in fuel, basic meals etc.   Just as significantly, it involves being away from home for 7 full days – with days either side spent on preparation, unpacking etc.   This of course involves significant cost, also.   A large amount of sales are required to make a net profit.  Exhibitors always ask themselves if there’s a more profitable way to spend their time, money and energy.    I imagine this financial & time summary is fairly typical of  many of the tradefair participants – and the bigger the business, the higher the cost of attendance (freight, staff costs etc) so the higher the sale value has to be to make the same percentage net profit.

From the outset, Beef Week has been held once every 3 years – yet I have still only managed to attend every second one.  There have often been other demands on my time and/or money or energy that have prevented consistent attendance.  Enjoyable though it is, tradefair attendance is exhausting for a sole owner/manager small business owner.  There is absolutely no way I would make it to Beef Week every time it was held, if it was on every second year, despite whatever good intentions I may have.

Because Beef Week is only on every third year, I do make a big effort to get there.  You know if you miss it it’s a three year wait until the next opportunity.  You also know that while it costs a bit of time and money, the time & budget bank has three years to recover before it rolls around again.

If Beef Week is held every second year, what will happen?  Rural Australians are ultra busy people, and everyone has only so much money to spend.  The more often Beef Week is on, the more likely they are to think, ‘oh well, it’s not so long to the next one, I’ll give it a miss this year and go next time’.

The absolute highlight for me is seeing people I haven’t seen for years – people I’d otherwise not be likely to bump into.  Last time I attended Beef Week I saw an ag college lecturer that I hadn’t seen since 1983.  Every time I go I see owners, managers, ringers, chopper pilots etc that I haven’t seen for years, and I meet mail order customers that I’d otherwise have never met in person.  These are people who live all over Australia – who have made a special trip to Rockhampton to attend Beef Week.  Are these people going to spend the significant amount of money and time to attend 30% more often?  I doubt it.  Instead they’ll come every second time (i.e. once every 4 years, rather than every 3 or 2).  And more significantly, because there is likely to be fewer tradefair exhibitors and they’ll bump into fewer of their friends (some of whom would have not attended because they’re coming ‘next time’ instead), the overall experience will be watered down.

The more often a rural event is held, the lower the percentage of remote area residents attending.   Every three years is just often enough to keep people keen while not so overly frequent that they’re likely to have to miss attending due to time or cash shortages.  AgQuip is held annually, however it pertains to a sector of agriculture that is far more closely settled – farming.  Held in the northern NSW cropping heartland town of Gunnedah, it is the largest agricultural machinery field day in Australia.  Many people travel hundreds of kilometres and from other states to attend, however the vast majority of visitors live within several hundred kilometres – from southern Qld cropping country down to central NSW.  The average AgQuip visitor would have travelled a much shorter distance to Gunnedah than the average Beef Week visitor travels to Rockhampton.

Equitana is the equine equivalent of Beef Week in Rockhampton.  The absolute highlight for me at Equitana Melbourne in November 2010, was the massive amount of visitors from all over Australia.  In fact, the vast majority of people I spoke to lived outside Victoria.  There were large numbers of people from northern WA, the NT, Tasmania and north Qld.   As well as New Zealand and other countries.   Most of these people had planned and saved to attend, well in advance.  They were passionate and very excited to be there – they’d looked forward to it for 2 years – and this enthusiasm helped foster a great atmosphere.  (Apparently the biggest Equitana Australia event held to date was the previous one, which had been held after a 3 years absence due to postponement in the midst of the Equine Influenza outbreak.)  By contrast, I have met a large number of locals (living within a couple of hundred km or so) at Equitana, AgQuip and Beef  Week who have clearly only attended because they ‘may as well’.   Raise the percentage of those who have only attended because it’s easy, and the atmosphere changes for those who’ve attended with enthusiasm.  Meeting lukewarm local visitors who don’t care that much about whether they are there or not, when you’ve travelled more than 1,000km especially to attend, is like having  a wet blanket dropped on your head.

The number of northern cattle station residents attending Equitana was completely unexpected and made it incredibly interesting for me, and while there were many great aspects it is this one in particular that would lure me back to attend again. Equitana Melbourne ‘super tickets’ sold out within weeks.  Equitana is on again this year, only 12 months later, in Sydney.   However there are still hundreds of the special tickets available for sale this year, several months after they were available to purchase.  Regional and remote residents simply don’t have the cash and time to attend these big events on a too-frequent basis, and they are far more likely to think ‘it’s a bit difficult to go this year, we’ll go next time instead’, if the gap between events is reduced.

So is someone pushing for Beef Week to be held every second year instead of every third?  No doubt, it would be vested interests in town who perceive they may have more money in the bank if Beef Week is held more often.  Accommodation owners, eateries, hoteliers, etc.  Businesses who are not involved in agriculture but in tourism.  Is Beef Week run primarily for the benefit of the beef industry, or primarily for the benefit of Rockhampton businesses who will rake in some extra cash by overpricing their accommodation?  I guess this is something for the Beef Week committee to ponder.  If it shifts to being held every second year, you can be sure that local businesspeople would be the ones behind the change, not pastoralists.  Undoubtedly there would be more money over the years in the coffers of particular Rockhampton businesses if Beef Week became biennial, and it may be easier to run and take pressure off tightly stretched accommodation due to lower attendance each time, but it would be to the detriment of the quality of the event.

I suspect visitors who have travelled a long way to attend are worth by far the most to event organisers and the surrounding town.  They’ve travelled a long way so they stay for the whole time, attend every day, spend up at the tradefair and on accommodation and transport.  Many out-of-town visitors to Equitana Melbourne had planned a day or two before or after Equitana for relaxation – which usually involved spending more money on other things besides extra accommodation nights and meals.  Whereas locals often visit the show for just one day then drive home that afternoon – perhaps not even spending much on food, let alone anything else.

On a personal front, business on my tradefair stand (at Rocky’s Beef Week and Equitana)  has always been by far the best on the first and second days.  The majority of these sales are to people who have travelled a long way to be there.  There are usually more people attending towards the end of the tradeshow, but a much higher percentage are locals (within 100km or so), and they often seem to spend less.  Many of the sales made towards the end of the tradefair are to people who came past on the first one or two days, and have come back to purchase just before carting their heavy parcels home.

People who have made the effort to travel long distances to attend rural events such as Rocky’s Beef Week, Equitana and AgQuip are also great ambassadors.  They tell people where they’re off to/where they’ve been when travelling to/from their destination, they talk about it with enthusiasm when they arrive home, and they encourage others to attend.  In other words, distant visitors are like travelling advertisements.  They are the ones who are worth the most to event organisers and local businesses such as motels and cafes, and I hope in the case of Beef Week, they will be treated with respect.

The Australian beef industry is our most decentralised industry and no doubt, one of the most decentralised pastoral industries in the world, given that our cattle stations are the largest enterprises of their kind.  So in this respect participants are unique and should be treated as such.   Nor should agricultural shows in Australia be compared to those run in other countries – for example the U.S., with a population of more than 300 million people, which can support the running of annual week-long livestock expositions each winter.

If you want to put your two bob’s worth in on whether Beef Week should become biennial, visit the Beef Australia website and fill in the online survey.   The survey organisers say it only takes 10 minutes to fill in – but it  took me just 3 minutes, and I typed in a few answers as well as ticking the boxes.  I hope those who fill the survey in, who encourage the committee to change Beef Week to biennial, are sure that they and everyone they know would actually support the change by attending every second year.  It’s easy to tick a box stating that running it ‘more often’ sounds like a good idea – but if it Beef Week changes to being held every 2 years, and people don’t act on their intentions, it will be to the detriment of what is a unique event.

PS:  In March 2012 the Beef Australia (Rockhampton) board announced that Rocky’s Beef Week would continue to be held every 3 years rather than changing to every 2 years, due to the results of the Central Queensland University study of visitor, exhibitor and sponsor attitudes to the proposed change.  It’s great to see commonsense prevail – so many other events have been ruined by being run more frequently – thus watering down the quality of the event, and thus entering a downward spiral (in regard to attendance numbers, profitability & popularity etc).   If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  Interestingly but perhaps unsurprisingly – those putting the most money and time into Beef Week – the stud stock exhibitors, primary producer attendees and sponsors, were all for maintaining the current 3 year ‘Beef Australia’ schedule.  These are the people making it a unique, great quality event – one worth making the time to attend.  Whereas those who were putting in the least money and/or time but happy to reap personal financial or entertainment benefits from the sidelines – local attendees, local business people and community members – favoured changing Rocky’s Beef Week to a biennial schedule.

What was surprising is that apparently tradefair exhibitors were also keen on running Beef Week more frequently.  I suspect this enthusiasm would mostly have been voiced by large companies, who are all set up to do an annual circuit of events – they have the staff and equipment already available and a sufficiently large budget.   These are the businesses and organisations that exhibit regularly at all sorts of industry events, and who are not directly dependent on tradefair sales for profitability – attendance is often part of a much bigger public relations plan.   Small business tradefair exhibitors, many of whom may exhibit infrequently and have travelled long distances – are those who provide the unique and special tradefair stands, amongst the big company, government and school stands.  These small businesses – from saddlers to artists, craft makers etc – would be unlikely to be able to afford the time or money to attend Beef Week every second year.

Sellers of cheap imported gee-gaws (Crazy Clarks/Silly Solly rubbish tip fillers) – and I’d include sellers of cheap imported saddlery in this group –  seem to be increasing at all sorts of events, from local community markets and shows to other major events such as Equitana.  These are also the sorts of businesses that may be keen on increasing the frequency of Rocky’s Beef Week.  However such businesses do nothing to help the industry and are detrimental to the overall tone of any event, and ultimately – they do nothing for our balance of trade or the environment, either!

The CQU summarising comment was made – changing Rocky’s Beef Week to a biennial event should only be done if there is a deliberate push to turn it into more of an entertainment-based event rather than the industry expo which it currently is.

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