Queen’s Wharf Brisbane rendering

New and improved venues in Australia enhance economic growth and intellectualism.

Not since the build-up to the 2000 Summer Olympics has Australia been this consumed with excitement and energy for hosting the world. Look around the continent country and you will see welcoming arms embrace the many magnificent meeting and event projects coming to life.

Leading the way, just as it did for the Summer Games, is Sydney, which will debut its stellar International Convention Centre (ICC Sydney) in the revitalized Darling Harbour precinct in December. Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), already an internationally recognized events hub, will begin a $154 million expansion later this year.

“It is a really an exciting time for Australia and the business-events segment,” says Jane Whitehead, vice president/regional general manager for The Americas at Tourism Australia. “We see that Australia consistently ranks on top of lists of destinations people want to visit. It’s really a great destination to take people to create a really memorable experience that has a wow factor.”

A dynamic alternative to Sydney and Melbourne is Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. Australia’s third-largest city gained a major measure of international prominence when it hosted 2014 G20 Australia Summit for the country’s most significant meeting of world leaders.

“Australia has excellent service levels, a real can-do attitude on the part of all the people involved with delivering and supporting events, and fantastic food and wine,” Whitehead says. “It’s really just a meal, a movie, a short sleep and you’re here.”

AustraliaICC Sydney rendering 


Of course, Australia’s meeting news goes way beyond the opening of ICC Sydney later this year, but the addition of the waterfront venue amid retail shops, restaurants and innovative businesses is the kind of revitalization project that will pay off for quite a while.

“Business events are critical drivers of social change, scientific discovery, medical advancements and so much more,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of Business Events Sydney (BESydney). “We take our role seriously as advocates for the sector, locally and globally, and will continue to strive for a future that wholeheartedly embraces business events as integral to our economic and well-being.”

AustraliaFour Points by Sheraton Sydney Darling Harbour rendering

ICC exhibition space will measure 374,500 sq. ft. The center’s 85,600 sq. ft. of meeting space is spread out among 70 rooms. The ballroom can host up to 2,000 for banquets, offering 270-degree views of the city skyline and harbor. There will be three theaters that seat 8,000, 2,500 and 1,000 attendees. In addition to the convention center’s 53,500-square-foot outdoor deck, events can be held at nearby Tumbalong Park, which can host up to 27,000 attendees.

Expanded meeting space is also being added at Four Points by Sheraton Sydney Darling Harbour. The convention center headquarter hotel is adding 51,467 sq. ft. of event space, which will open in June, and a new tower that will be completed in October to up the Sheraton’s room count to more than 900.

Sydney’s cosmopolitan allure is definitely influencing incentive travel, especially top performers from Asian countries. BESydney reports that more than 53,000 Asian incentive delegates have contributed nearly $180 million to the New South Wales economy in the past three years. Upcoming in 2016 are the Nu Skin Greater China Success Trip and Cathay Life Taiwan Summit. Amway China Leadership Seminar will take place in 2017.

“The Cathay Life team works hard to reach and exceed its sales targets, and the reward will be an exciting trip to the vibrant city of Sydney,” says Shan-Chi Liu, senior executive vice president for Cathay Life Taiwan. “New South Wales has amazing nature and iconic landmarks that our delegates will enjoy experiencing alongside world-class shopping and cultural attractions.”

AustraliaMelbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre


What Melbourne brings to the meetings industry is notable thanks to its stellar green convention center. Helping solidify Australia’s second-largest city as a top choice for conventions in the Asia-Pacific region is Melbourne’s variety of amazing attractions, including a renowned wine region and stunning coastline.

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) is a magnet for attracting the brightest minds in the world, especially when it comes to health care conferences. During 2014–15, Melbourne’s meetings and events infrastructure was front and center when it hosted the World Diabetes Congress, World Cardiology Congress, International Congress of the World Federation of Hemophilia, 20th International AIDS Conference and World Cancer Congress. The health care conventions alone drew more than 25,000 experts from outside the country and bolstered the local economy by $150 million.

“The success of these conferences was the result of a true partnership between the city, state and international associations,” says Karen Bolinger, chief executive of Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB). “Importantly, they also left legacies, such as policy and legislative change, and health and social improvements, meaning these conferences are still having an impact today.”

In November, MCB landed the 16th annual Meeting of International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), which takes place in June 2018. “Our history of innovation and collaboration was one of the many reasons that enabled Melbourne to secure the meeting,” Bolinger says.

To maintain its international edge, MCEC will undergo a $154 million renovation starting this month or in February. The project will add retail shops, lodging and multipurpose event space, in addition to creating improved networking areas with upgrades to indoor and outdoor cafes and restaurants. MCEC has 321,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. The plenary can seat 5,540 theater-style.

The Yarra Valley wine region features more than 70 wineries east of Melbourne. They’ve been making wine here since 1838, specializing in chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wine. Among the other popular destinations that are perfect for incentive travel and pre- and postmeeting travel are a ride along the coast to see the famous Twelve Apostles rock formations and Phillip Island to see the nightly parade of penguins.

AustraliaBrisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre


Whenever world leaders gather in a city, the impact can be far-reaching, especially with regard to local economy and native pride. Brisbane was certainly energized at the 2014 G20 Summit, when U.S. President Barack Obama described it as “a global city in a globalized world.”

The summit took place at Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC), which features 267,500 sq. ft. of exhibition space. There are three stand-alone halls that can host 400 to 8,000 delegates, and boast 44 meeting and multipurpose event spaces.

During the 2014–15 financial year, BCEC landed 147 convention bids, a 35 percent jump over the previous period. Among its future conventions will be the 2017 Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics, which picked Brisbane over San Diego, Calgary and Copenhagen. The bid was supported by Queensland University of Technology, The University of Queensland, Griffith University, Brisbane Conventions and Business Events, and Tourism and Events Queensland.

“These latest major wins reinforce the importance of a strong united approach by the city’s stakeholders in attracting meetings involving key sector strengths,” says Bob O’Keefe, general manager of BCEC. “We are committed to building on the experiences and expertise of 20 years to take the center to the next level, and with a strong culture of innovation and forward thinking to shape a future BCEC to challenge the best of the best.”

South Bank, the vibrant riverside convention center precinct, provides an impressive backdrop for meetings. There are 27 hotels within 1.2 miles of BCEC, including neighboring Rydges South Bank, with 304 guest rooms and space for up to 600, and Mantra South Bank, with 161 guest rooms and room for 200.

Besides trendy shops, cafes and restaurants, South Bank features Gallery of Modern Art, a riverfront promenade and the river’s popular high-speed CityCat service. Brisbane’s next big thing is the Queen’s Wharf Brisbane redevelopment project, which carries a $3 billion price tag. The project calls for a signature arc building that has a sky deck, with restaurants and bars. There will be a casino, five new luxury hotels, 50 restaurants and bars, residential towers and a riverfront moonlight cinema. Construction begins in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2022. According to the project website, Queen’s Wharf Brisbane will be “the heart of a new world city.”


Connecting with China

Sydney has expanded its meetings and events marketing campaign in China with the November launch of a Chinese-language website and popular social accounts. For more than 10 years, Sydney has had active representation in China and is employing its latest strategies to further engage the Chinese and show a commitment to the region.

“This has been an extensive project for the organization,” says Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of Business Events Sydney. “We have worked really hard to define the needs of this market and to create a website and social presence that is in line with how our clients work and communicate in China. We have invested, and we continue to invest, in nurturing and building strong business relationships in the region.”

Business Events Sydney research shows that the Chinese rank very high for being digitally connected and socially engaged. Internet users increased 6 percent (or 36 million new users) from July 2014 through July 2015, with more social media users than the United States and Europe combined. Besides the Chinese-language website, Sydney is using WeChat (a free messaging and calling app), Weibo (a hybrid microblog site similar to Twitter and Facebook) and Youku (a video-sharing tool).

“This vital infrastructure will provide a much more convenient and effective platform for Chinese clients to connect with us, with fast Web loading speeds and an opportunity to easily search, locate and consume information about Sydney through China’s largest search engine—Baidu,” Lewis-Smith says.

Baidu, similar to Google, is China’s top search engine. It also features an online payment service and food-delivery service. Sydney reports a 20 percent year-on-year growth in business from Asia during the past five years. China represents nearly half of the Asian business.


Adventures Await in Cairns

Cairns, a 2.5-hour flight or seven-hour train ride from Brisbane, is the gateway to key natural wonders such as Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Last month, a three-part documentary on the Great Barrier Reef debuted, complementing a new marketing campaign to promote Australia’s aquatic and coastal experiences. The film is presented by naturalist David Attenborough and produced by Atlantic Productions.

“Our aquatic and coastal story has always been an important part of selling Australia, but has never before taken center stage in a campaign,” says John O’Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia. “This film will show the reef in ways never previously seen before and provides a wonderful vehicle for us to shine a light on Australia’s outstanding aquatic and coastal experiences. Our research shows that aquatic experiences, and particularly the reef, are major draw cards for tourists from all of our major international markets.”

Cairns is steeped in Aboriginal history and culture. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, which underwent a $9.5 million makeover last year, allows visitors to explore ancient history of the continent, spiritual connections to the land, traditional bush food and medicinal values of native plants. There are theaters, live performances and a gallery where artifacts are on display.

Cairns Convention Centre has two halls, with 18,512 sq. ft. and 15,817 sq. ft., accommodating up to 5,000. Located between two World Heritage areas, the convention center adheres to stringent environmental controls.

Shangri-La Hotel, The Marina in Cairns is a 10-minute walk to the convention center. Recently refurbished, the five-star luxury property offers 255 guest rooms and a ballroom that can accommodate 400. Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort, north of Cairns, is undergoing a $30 million renovation. There are 294 guest rooms and suites, more than 100 self-contact villas, indoor and outdoor event space for up to 1,000 and a golf course.


Brisbane Convention Bureau
Business Events Sydney
Melbourne Convention Bureau
Tourism Australia