What’s true of Australia is true of Queensland in microcosm, it is a multi-layered destination, offering a contrast of climates, terrains, settings and experiences.
For medium to large events, Queensland can be divided into three main areas, the state capital Brisbane, Tropical North Queensland around Cairns and Port Douglas, and the Gold Coast.
The state’s balmy weather has long been a draw for Australian leisure visitors from out of state but Queensland offers meeting and event planners a real variety of options.
Aside from the attractions of beach and resort destinations on the one hand or a large multicultural city on the other, Queensland also offers eco-experiences in tropical rainforests, a number of excellent theme parks and opportunities for outdoor events whose only limits are the imagination.
The meetings sector in the state also benefits from having very active convention bureaus, which aggressively market their destinations and provide advice and support to event planners from overseas looking for guidance and local contacts.
Marianne Edmonds, director of Brisbane-based LOUD Events, says: “Queensland is actually extremely competitive as a destination. We offer authentic cultural experiences and natural outdoor activity that is set in some of the world’s most stunning natural heritage playgrounds.”
Aside from natural beauty, Edmonds also stresses the professionalism that can be found in Queensland.
“The turnaround time can be extremely fast. Suppliers here are used to delivering efficiently and quickly. There is also a friendly and welcoming sense of a relaxed environment in Queensland. Apart from Brisbane, there are also some direct flights from Asia.” Gold Coast airport has upgraded recently with a substantial improvement in passenger-handling facilities. Even without direct flights, Australia’s Qantas and low-cost carriers such as Jetstar and Virgin Blue criss-cross the state as well as connect with the major points of entry in Sydney and Melbourne.
“Our only negative feedback has been the perceived lack of history and authentic culture. However, bringing the indigenous Australian and settlers’ arrival sites into our tours really goes a long way to proving this concept incorrect,” Edmonds says.
With reliable weather – which is very comfortable apart from January in the height of summer, great fresh food and a variety of culinary styles on offer, Queensland provides meeting planners with a number of rock-hard certainties they can rely on. On top of that, all parts of Australia are very safe and secure, an added selling point in today’s troubled world.
Edmonds acknowledges that for Asian groups used to ultra-high service delivery in luxury hotels at relatively low rates, hotels in Queensland may at first sight appear to be in a different category.
“In comparison to the international market, the standard of hotel rooms is sometimes commented upon. However, it is how you sell your trip. Our hotels are stunning enterprises set in unique locations.
“There are not too many places in the world where you can wake up between the rainforest and the beach. Our established technology networks meet most pan-Pacific expectations. All in all, I don’t think you can beat Queensland as a perfect destination for meetings and incentive business.”
Sometimes dubbed BrisVegas due to its vibrant nightlife, Brisbane offers meeting groups either a self-contained experience or a platform for exploring other parts of the state.
Its international airport is well connected regionally and its infrastructure is world class. The city also has heritage sites as well as a modern edge.
For large meetings and conferences, the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC) is the top-of-mind choice.
Edmonds says: “After working in most southeast Asian convention centres, we honestly cannot say enough about the BCEC. The service is unsurpassable. The people are incredible and the food is an amazing culinary ride. They will customise and bend over backward for our clients.”
However, aside from purpose-built venues, Brisbane has another key attraction for meeting planners. More than a score of unique venues are allied with Brisbane’s Unique Venues Association (BUVA).
BUVA represents 22 venues ranging from museums, breweries, sport and community facilities that can be hired for corporate functions. The only other Australian city to have this kind of alliance is Sydney.
The Workshops Rail Museum, for example, can hold cocktail parties for up to 1,000 people in its converted function space and can cater to banquets of up to 400 in its spacious rooms.
Edmonds picks out one arts venue in particular as a stylish alternative to standard hotel options.
“GOMA – the Gallery of Modern Art – is sensational. It’s an architectural feat with an outstanding art programme, attracting the likes of Andy Warhol, Valentino and Picasso showings. Brisbane is really wowing the southern states with its shows.
She also recommends Victoria Park golf complex as another worthy pick.
“Recently, we held an event for 600, where delegates could drive from the double-storey flood-lit driving range, or a putt on the pro-golfer designed mini-golf course. Alternatively, they can simply enjoy a cold ale and the tastes of Queensland, such as barbecue prawns, while listening to the chilled sounds of fabulous local entertainers and taking in the breathtaking city view. This venue is spectacular and the rooms are incomparably better than even a glass marquee.”
Organisers can also take groups on to the Brisbane River. Delegates can enjoy a night kayak activity or even abseil down cliffs before changing into some formal wear and enjoying a black-tie dinner overlooking the river from a clear marquee. An alfresco dining option has proven to be a perennially popular option.
CONTACT: Brisbane Marketing
Reef and rainforest
In the heart of Tropical North Queensland is Cairns and not too far away is the resort destination of Port Douglas. Both offer groups a dramatic setting for corporate events.
Offshore is the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s great natural wonders, while inland are pristine rainforests.
Anne-Marie Coulton, director of Business Events Cairns and Great Barrier Reef, says: “Cairns’ reputation as Australia’s premier regional business event destination is well earned for professional services, world-class facilities, the natural advantage of having two world heritage areas – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest, and the world’s friendliest and most welcoming people.”
Groups can hire seaplanes to take small groups out to the reef area. Parts of the reef are dotted with tiny islands where the team can touch down and enjoy a lunch with a difference on these slivers of land.
For those members of the group who love diving, the reef provides many attractions they will never experience elsewhere. Others can simply soak up the sun.
The rainforest environment provides planners with a number of options. These might include a “Flames of the Forest” dinner, with only the trees and stars as spectators. Your team can be led through the rainforest under a canopy of leaves and branches until they reach a clearing with silver-service quality catering laid on.
Groups might also want to consider these eco-elements as part of a wider corporate social responsibility programme.
Edmonds of LOUD Events says: “The wilderness experiences, mingling the Daintree with the Great Barrier Reef, offer endless incredible experiences. Our Asian delegates also love dinners set in Cairns Night Zoo, the Cairns Bungee Jump, the Cairns Regional Galaxy, the Iron Range National Park and the dive sites around the Great Barrier Reef.”
She adds that the Port Douglas Sugar Wharf is a stunning setting, overlooking the Coral Sea offering a spectacular waterfront dining backdrop.
“In Cairns, there are a number of stunning eco tours. We are rolling out ones that include white-water rafting, aboriginal-led rainforest walks, hiking in the Daintree and a rainforest planting session in each of your guests’ names.
“These tours can include a naturalist guide and specialists presenting on each section. Accommodation is in a stylish eco-lodge in the tree tops of the rainforest.”
The region is also seeing fresh investment in infrastructure.
Cairns International Airport has recently been upgraded and a multi-million dollar renovation of the cruise-ship terminal is now underway.
Coulton of Business Events Cairns and Great Barrier Reef points out there are several new products of interest to meeting and incentive planners. Shangri-La Hotel The Marina Cairns has created a dinner show based on the story of Paronella Park, a castle in the rainforest near Cairns, while Australian Muster Experience welcomes guests to a working cattle station to see traditional rural Australia.
The Skyrail Rainforest Cableway had “a brush with fame” recently when it was revealed that the scenery was the inspiration for the drawings used to design the film blockbuster Avatar.
Contact: Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef
The Gold Coast’s range of beaches, quality accommodation and great weather has been bringing domestic groups to the region for decades. Now the strip is getting greater interest from Asian groups.
Wining and dining in the region’s great weather is certainly one factor, but the other is that Gold Coast has major attractions, such as Warner Brother’s Movie World, DreamWorld and WhiteWater World.
Shelley Winkel, public relations and communications manager for both Dreamworld and WhiteWater World, points out that as this is Year of the Tiger in the lunar calendar, what better way for Asian groups to mark this auspicious time than to have dinner with the big cats. Groups cannot only enjoy their meal viewing these magnificent beasts but can, under strictly controlled conditions, get up close to some of the younger animals and even stroke them.
WhiteWater World encourages a slightly different kind of daring, with a number of water-themed rides and activities that could fit into a broader teambuilding programme.
Meanwhile, LOUD’s Edmonds says: “We like to take guests on tall ships and sail in the afternoon sunset to McLarens Landing – an isolated island off the Gold Coast.
“LOUD loves to take delegates to one of Australia’s leading eco-resorts on South Stradbroke Island, Couran Cove. This is a 40-minute ferry ride from the Gold Coast and set in natural surrounds featuring pristine white beaches and native Australian wildlife. A barbecue lunch in their surf club, overlooking the ocean, is an incredible way to wrap up a conference or perfect as a break from business conferencing.”
Helicopter transfers are also available to Couran Cove, offering a fantastic bird’s eye view of the Gold Coast.
Often, groups like to include a cocktail gathering at the Q1 tower, which is Australia’s tallest building, as part of their networking programme. Guests can enjoy a 360-degree bird’s eyeview of the Gold Coast from a venue that sits 77 floors above ground.
Says Edmonds: “You can’t beat the weather and the shopping opportunities appeals to our Asian partner programmers. It is great for a short-haul incentive and offers diversity to suit any group.”
contact: Gold Coast Convention Bureau
Ashley Gordon is director of Carillon Conference Management (CCM) in Brisbane
Brisbane: We manage many large-scale conferences at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC), but it is good to find venues off-site for special events.
One that we are very fond of is the Queensland Maritime Museum. Located about five minutes away from the BCEC by walking through the very picturesque Southbank Parklands, this museum is a wonderful and unexpected gem. It is right on the Brisbane River, with a superb view over the central business district, and features not only one of Australia’s most historic dry docks, but an impressive display hall and acres of outdoor space, making the venue ideal for large events.
Better still are some of the exhibits, including a World War Two Royal Australian Navy frigate, the HMAS Diamantina. Another reason this venue really works is that you can get BCEC to do your catering and the museum provides volunteers to explain exhibits to your guests.
We use this venue whenever we can and we are very pleased to be able to support such a worthy historical organisation. Another favourite of ours is the Old Customs House.
Located right in the CBD and on the banks of the river, Customs House is now operated by the University of Queensland and offers various rooms and areas ideal for functions.
A famous landmark in Brisbane, known to all Rugby League fans throughout the world, is the Suncorp Stadium, better known as “The Cauldron” due to the many intense games that have been held there over the years. Very few know that it not only boasts some excellent function rooms, but that you can bring in legendary players and host sessions in the dressing rooms.
CCM did this for a large Investment and Financial Services Association conference attended by 800 senior executives. Delegates were offered optional workshops with famous former players and these were fully subscribed instantaneously. After a motivating session in the dressing rooms, the delegates were treated to a session on the “hallowed turf”.
Gold Coast: The Gold Coast is the site of yet another very well run and particularly flexible convention centre, the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC).
For 25 years, we have had an excellent working relationship with Jupiter’s Hotel and Casino, Gold Coast. Apart from providing us with plenty of accommodation rooms for conferences at GCCE, Jupiter’s features many great venues of its own. The poolside area is Babylonian in splendour and a very good venue for cocktail parties and casual events like barbeque dinners. Jupiter’s also has some unique venues for smaller, VIP-style functions, like the Penthouses for up to 30 guests.
Cairns: Cairns is Australia’s tropical city and a prime launching point for the Great Barrier Reef. The destination abounds in unique and innovative attractions. One of the best known of these, the Kuranda Railway (above).
Delegates always enjoy the experience. The Kuranda railway is an engineering feat of the late 19th century and a living piece of history. A little known fact is that the railway has special Gold Class carriages with an appropriately elevated level of service. These are beautifully restored old carriages fitted out with comfortable individual lounge chairs. Charming hostesses look after your passengers with champagne and canapés as some of the most spectacular scenery you will see anywhere gently rolls past.
The trip terminates at the delightful Kuranda railway station with its abundant tropical flora. We usually arrange an itinerary that includes the Gold Class train trip on the way up, some time to explore the Kuranda village and markets and then a return trip on the wonderful Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Skyrail is another wonder of engineering and the views over the rainforest and of the ocean are truly breathtaking. I must have done this same itinerary 20 times and yet I always look forward to doing it again.
The main international access point for Queensland is Brisbane, which has 22 airlines flying from New Zealand, Asia and the Middle Eastern hubs. Airlines include Air China, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, THAI, Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines and Emirates. Some European airlines, such as Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and KLM operate onward services from Asian hubs such as Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur respectively.
There are direct flights between the Gold Coast and Tokyo, Osaka, Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand operated by Jetstar, AirAsia and Air New Zealand. Cairns Airport has connections with Auckland, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore. All airports have regular domestic connections to other key gateway cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Aside from English, there are many Asian language-speakers in the hospitality sector due to Queensland ‘s cosmopolitan population.
In south and central Queensland during the summer, the region has highs of 280C and lows of 200C. Temperature ranges between 200C and 90C in the winter. Northern Queensland is hotter and much more humid. In Cairns, summer temperatures reach over 310C during the day and 240C at night. During winter, day temperature reaches a high of 260C and then drops to 170C at night.
The Australian government’s website has an extremely useful and detailed guide specifically for event organisers. Visit www.immi.gov.au/visitors/event-organisers-participants/
Brisbane ‘s Unique Venues Association
Carillon Conference Management
LOUD Conferences and Events