Melbourne sometimes seems like the shyer sibling of her brasher, glitzier big sister Sydney, but this Australian city has a lot to shout about. Visitors often remark on the “Europeanness” of Melbourne, a reflection perhaps both of the imposing British-style architecture of many public buildings as well as of the city’s cosmopolitan, multicultural population.
As the capital of the state of Victoria, Melbourne provides a range of world-class urban facilities with easy access to stunning wilderness, coastal beauty, wine regions and a host of other attractions for corporate groups.
Even so, Melbourne in the past was often unnecessarily overlooked given the grand image and international profile of Sydney.
One leading incentive specialist, Andrew Burnes, chief executive officer of the AOT Group, says: “It’s a little like the car-rental firm Avis. They were number two in the world so they said, ‘We try harder’. That’s pretty much the same for Melbourne. We make the extra effort and that makes a difference.”
The city has a strong history of hosting major sporting events and therefore has a stellar track record of logistical expertise handling thousands of people across multiple venues.
However, Melbournians will also proudly claim that they can offer service from the heart for even the smallest of groups. Peter Jones of Peter Jones Special Events stresses the importance of matching the event with the group and avoiding the temptation of a one-size-fits-all solution.
“There’s no point in offering an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution. A Melbourne event has to be specifically created for each group.
“We are going to be hosting the Amway China group in a couple of years. They have already been to Sydney and next year it will be the Gold Coast, so we have to come up with something very different.
“Melbourne does not have the iconic resources of Sydney, for example, with its Opera House and harbour, so we have to create a point of difference.
Melbourne’s shopping options are an obvious attraction. “Especially with Asian groups, you need to build in time to allow the group to go shopping and to dine around,” Jones says. But his company offers a different twist with a more personalised and intimate shopping experience.
“We were handling a group of Lexus dealers and their wives. These people were very wealthy, dripping with jewellery and luxury brands. So we took them to a private dinner in an exclusive shopping arcade. We made a special arrangement with the shop owners to keep their stores open after their normal closing time.
“The Lexus group was able to browse leisurely through the shops with the staff entirely dedicated to them. They loved it and the shops did a roaring trade.”
CULTURE AND CUISINE
Melbourne’s many art centres and galleries can also provide a perfect backdrop for private dinners. However, Jones is aware that this is usually of more limited interest to larger groups. He says the secret is simply a matter of knowing the group’s interests and objectives and tailoring the programme accordingly.
“You have to target the event to something appropriate to age, gender and experience,” he adds.
Jones stresses that Melbourne has great and unusual venues for events. “Sometimes the venues aren’t even aware of their own possibilities,” he says.
His company teased one group with an item on their itinerary that simply said: “Morning: Breakfast with the Veggies”.
“This got the group wondering what it was all about. The next morning they were collected from the hotel in a fleet of fruit trucks and driven to Melbourne’s fruit and vegetable market. We had set up tables in the market for their breakfast and they had the added treat of the smells, sights and sounds of a great Melbourne location.”
Certainly food and drink are part of the city’s attractions. Melbourne has earned a deserved reputation as one of the world’s wining and dining paradises.
Australia’s abundant fresh supply of premium-quality meat and fish is one obvious explanation. Another is that this multicultural city is home to a rich array of ethnic cuisines. From the Mediterranean and the Middle East to south-east and north-east Asia, each successive wave of arrivals in the city brought their recipes and their vibrant cooking styles with them.
Southbank area, close to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and the Convention Centre, has a wide range of restaurants and is always popular with those attending trade shows and congresses. The city’s Greek and Italian communities have made their mark with dozens of family-run restaurants across the city centre. In Chinatown, Asian delicacies in dozens of styles are eagerly snapped up by diners.
But it’s not just food, of course. While South Australia is certainly the wine centre of the country, there are a number of fine vineyards and wineries in the Yarra Valley surrounding Melbourne, offering groups plenty of options for wine-tasting tours and vineyard visits.
With the right dose of imagination, the range of potential venues in the city is impressive and expanding all the time. The rejuvenated Docklands area is currently being developed as a major entertainment precinct, for example.
Another major investment will see a new 5,000-seater convention centre open in 2009 on the Yarra River which will offer 32 different meeting and function spaces.
Melbourne aims to provide both the scale and the personalisation that event organisers crave.
IF you needed only one reason to hold your event in Melbourne, food would provide it. The city prides itself on being Australia’s culinary capital and has some of the finest restaurants in the country. Add to this with some sensational venues for corporate functions and you have a winning combination, writes Kevin Moloney.
Melbourne’s bars and restaurants are ideal for everything from lunch functions and gala dinners to drinks gatherings and even small meetings. There are several districts notable for their restaurants, and each has its own character.
The dramatic architectural skyline of Federation Square in the heart of the city is home to some of the most recent additions to Melbourne’s culinary scene, and one building houses several exciting options. Transit Lounge takes up the entire second level of the highly acclaimed Transport Hotel, and is one of Melbourne’s funkiest and coolest places to stage a business event. Bold, sleek and contemporary, it has a cocktail capacity for 90 inside and a further 100 on the outside terrace where guests are treated to unsurpassed views of Melbourne and the Yarra River.
Drop down one level at the Transport Hotel and you’ll find Taxi, one of Melbourne’s landmark restaurants with dramatic architecture adding a new dimension to the dining experience. Under the direction of acclaimed chef Michael Lambie, Taxi is Australian cuisine influenced by Japanese flavours. Taxi, Transit Lounge and the ground-floor bar of the Transport Hotel all can be hired on an exclusive-use basis and individual function rooms provide further options.
Staying with venues which begin with a “T” and involve travel, the Tramcar Restaurant wends its way through the vibrant Melbourne streets, with each course taken in a different suburb. The restaurant can seat up to 108 passengers in its three trams, each decorated in a lavish Pullman style. The restaurant serves a five-course meal of fine food, including kangaroo fillet and sumptuous smoked local trout.
One of Melbourne’s newest precincts is Docklands, on the edge of the CBD. It is home to Beachclub, a funky bar and restaurant that can accommodate up to 500 people for a cocktail party. With views over the city, the heated terrace and waterfront location make it a popular place for larger corporate functions.
In Melbourne’s arts precinct under the shadow of the Arts Centre spire, you’ll find Black Box, home to stand-up comedy, cabaret and live acts. It can cater for up to 150 people in a variety of configurations in a sleek and contemporary environment.
Meanwhile, back in Alfred Place in the Paris end of town, you’ll find Comme, a restaurant which represents the style and sophistication that makes Melbourne stand out as the “foodie’s capital” of Australia.
One of Melbourne’s coolest establishments serving French/Spanish cuisine, Comme drips in Melbourne chic. Groups from 16 to 300 are accommodated in the two upstairs rooms, which are purpose-built for conferences and functions.
STRIKING IT RICH
Historically, a fair proportion of Melbourne’s wealth came from the surrounding gold fields. When faced with the abundance of venue options in the city itself it can seem difficult to find the time to explore further, but Ballarat, some 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, is worth the effort, and provides perspective and context on the city.
Sovereign Hill, an award-winning recreation of the pioneering days of Victoria’s famous gold rush of the 1850s, is one of Ballarat’s most visited sites. Every day, Main Street, Sovereign Hill comes alive with a bustling display of industry and commerce as it was back in the days of the gold rush. Recognised as one of Australia’s greatest tourist attractions, Sovereign Hill is constantly updating itself to accommodate various market segments.
What might surprise many visitors are the high-end meetings facilities behind the old facades. Behind the doors of the New York Bakery, for instance, the wheels of modern- day industry are turning as a business session takes place amid the ambience of the rustic building. With seating capacity for up to 140 delegates for presentations, lunches or breakfasts, the New York Bakery adds a unique charm not found in hotels or purpose-built conference venues.
Further along Main Street, past a couple of disheartened gold prospectors on their way back from an unsuccessful day at the diggings, is Linton Lodge – a purpose-built breakout facility for up to 20 people. The colonial exterior of Linton Lodge maintains its place in the 1850s. However the facilities inside, including food service and audiovisual, are well and truly this century.
As a horse-drawn stagecoach rattles past the shop fronts of Main Street, it stops at the doors of the Victoria Theatre, a grand example of the architectural opulence of the era. Inside, the theatre is dressed in its finest authentic Victorian décor with chandeliers, marble column and elaborate plasterwork. Up to 120 conference delegates will be treated to a cocktail party inside the walls of the theatre this evening after their day’s business sessions at Sovereign Hill’s various facilities.
And themeing? Well, it’s all done for you. Actors and staff from Sovereign Hill can ensure the cocktail party will have delegates eating and drinking in fine style – not quite like the days of the gold rush. With a careful eye for detail, the show goes on with colour and history fused into every cocktail.
Adventurous delegates have arranged for their CEO to be arrested by the troopers of the goldfields. Returned later, of course, after being appropriately dealt with by the long arm of the law.
Also managed by the people of Sovereign Hill is Narmbool – a magnificent 2,000 hectare (about 5,000 acres) pastoral property with 14 accommodation suites and conference facilities for up to 130 guests, about 30 minutes from Sovereign Hill.
The elegant Garden Room , with sweeping views over the property, can seat 120 people theatre-style, while the smaller Narmbool Lodge and balcony seat 60 and 80 respectively in the same configuration.
Narmbool offers a unique Australian experience for conferencing. Delegates are teased by the treasures of the Australian bush with kangaroos, koalas, magnificent native birds and even platypus all living on the property.
Shannon Klein, sales executive for international incentives from the Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently visited Sovereign Hill to introduce Asian groups.
“It’s the unique representation of Australian history and culture that has the most appeal. With their conference facilities, Sovereign Hill is becoming very popular not only with the smaller convention market but also for incentive experiences. It’s a lot of fun as well,” explains Klein.
Within easy reach of metropolitan Melbourne, Sovereign Hill is a definite to include as a venue with a distinctly Australian flavour.
If there’s one thing Australians love more than sport, it’s winning at sport.
For a nation of just 20 million, this fiercely competitive country has produced more than its fair share of sporting heroes and legends.
And Melbourne, more than anywhere else in the country, pays homage to them.
“Where else in the world do you have a public holiday for a horse race? It’s an obsession,” says Peter Jones of Peter Jones Special Events, speaking of the annual Melbourne Cup Carnival, which uses the tagline “The celebration that stops a nation”.
The Melbourne Cup programme in November takes a week to complete and at times Flemington Racecourse becomes home to over 100,000 spectators, crowding out the stands and networking in the corporate hospitality tents and pavilions.
The whole city seems all but taken over by racegoers and punters, men in top hats and tails, women in impossibly light dresses, colourful hats and fancy fascinators (hair accessories).
But it’s not only horseracing that captures the imagination of a city that last year decided to rename one of its streets Olympic Boulevard to mark the 50th anniversary of its hosting of the world’s greatest sporting event.
Aussie Rules, soccer, swimming, tennis, Grand Prix races, you name it – Melbourne hosts it and the Melbournians turn up in droves to support it. Not surprisingly the city is home to a number of iconic venues with a sporting theme.
“We took an all-male South African group to Melbourne cricket ground, where they had each of their names flashed up on the scoreboard and had their picture taken,” says Jones. “That was a hugely memorable event for them because they were fans, it had a strong emotional attachment. We can also arrange for cricket celebrities to put in a personal appearance and meet and greet the group.”
It doesn’t have to be cricket, of course, although South Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, are equally crazy about the game, nor so male-oriented.
Tennis appeals to both men and women and Jones’ company can arrange dinner on the centre court of the Rod Laver Arena and allow participants to fire a few shots over the net that has hosted so many historic showdowns.
Says Jones: “You can’t do that at any other Grand Slam tennis venue. You can only do it in Melbourne.”
This venue offers some of the biggest event opportunities in the city. Melbourne Cup Carnival race week, normally held in early November each year, provides a wide range of high-end options, such as corporate hospitality pavilions, VIP helicopter transfers to and from central Melbourne and so on. Emirates, the 2006 cup sponsor, spent several million dollars constructing an impressive, French-style villa for its guests, some of whom it had flown in specially, who were treated to free-flowing champagne and fine cuisine.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Melbourne Cricket Ground is often referred to as “hallowed” and when it’s famous turf is used as a venue for a corporate function, guests feel like they’re making a test century for Australia. One of the most revered places in Australia, the arena of the MCG creates a spectacle like no other.
While it’s not just a cricket ground – it also hosts Australia Rules Football – the MCG offers 30 varied function spaces, including bars and restaurants. History runs through the place, which saw its first cricket match back in 1854. It also hosted the first Australia versus England test match in 1877. A true piece of Australia’s heritage.
Melbourne and Olympic Parks
Melbourne and Olympic Parks is a multi-venue precinct in central Melbourne that has hosted major events since the 1956 Olympics. The sports include athletics, tennis, Rugby League, soccer, swimming, cycling, motorcycling and Aussie Rules. There are several key venues within the complex and each has a wide range of flexible space for a variety of event types, including corporate hospitality for particular events, music concerts and tailormade events from a few dozen up to several thousand strong.
Melbourne Park Function Centre
Movable soundproof walls in some of the centre’s function space give this venue a great deal of flexibility for groups ranging from 50 to 2,000 people. A large open-air balcony gives great views of Melbourne’s cityscape and is ideal for cocktails and receptions.
This is the only specially designed multi-purpose mass venue in Melbourne, capable of handling music concerts, sporting events, conferences of around 9,000 or black-tie dinners for 1,500. The arena has both a retractable roof and retractable, raiseable and removable seating, offering organisers a range of configurations and outdoor/indoor options in a single space.
The Rod Laver Arena, Olympic Park stadium, the Lexus Centre swimming complex and The Oval open-air space are all flexible enough to be used for an array of events, with dedicated function spaces and facilities of varying sizes.
Champions: Australian Racing Museum
Champions at Federation Square is a celebration of Australia’s thoroughbred racing industry. With sharp, clean lines, the stylish function space at Champions can cater for 350 cocktail-party guests. Surrounded by the horseracing museum, Champions is one of Melbourne’s newest and most exciting city venues.
Mansion Hotel Werribee Park
Where is it?
Werribee, Victoria. Less than half an hour from central Melbourne and at the gateway to the Great Ocean Road.
Why is it so special?
Built in the 1870s, the Mansion Hotel was the largest private residence in the whole of Victoria at the time. Later it was used as religious seminary. The Mansion Hotel offers a non-traditional setting for meetings, corporate retreats, and teambuilding with all the benefits of a boutique hotel. The property is currently managed by Accor and is being rebranded as a Sofitel. The original part of the property is heritage listed.
What’s in its surroundings?
In Werribee Park, next to Chirnside Mansion with its restored farm buildings and 10 hectares of formal Guilfoyle-style gardens, the Victorian State Rose Garden, Victoria’s Open Range Zoo, the National Equestrian Centre and the Polo Academy.
What can you do there?
The Spa has had rave reviews and with wide-open spaces, outdoor activities are an obvious option.
Any special spaces?
Shadowfax Winery and Vineyard offers an atmospheric venue for events, including wine tastings, cocktail receptions or sit-down gourmet dinners for a few dozen people. Groups can tour the barrel room and see the winery’s production areas.
Corporate retreats and conferences that are close enough to Melbourne and the city lights but set in tranquil countryside free from urban distractions.
Where is it?
In the Crown Entertainment Complex at Southbank on Melbourne’s Yarra River, close to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and Melbourne Conference Centre.
What’s the big idea?
Studio 3 is designed to resemble a television or movie set. The aim is to provide organisers with a blank canvas on which they can impose their own concepts for their events.
How can You use it?
The studio-style space lends itself to endless permutations, especially those with a TV or movie theme. How about a “Hooray for Bollywood” night? Your group dines on spicy Indian cuisine while sari-clad dancers gyrate to the exotic soundtracks of Hindi soundtracks. Or what about having your CEO interviewed on his future plans for your company by a broadcasting
celebrity in a TV chat-show format rather than delivering a formal conference speech?
How hi-tech is it?
Studio 3’s sound system can deliver over 36,000 watts of audio. The speakers are fully networked so adjustments can be made for different room configurations. The main audio console offers programmable effects and different set-up options can be saved to a memory stick for easy recall.
The space also features “mood” lighting with nine different coloured themes designed to complement table settings and provide striking room effects with minimum fuss. LED and moving light systems also allow the room to be instantly transformed.
An open-air balcony overlooks the Yarra River, ideal for pre-event cocktails or after-dinner drinks.
Amod THATTE is a senior incentives buyer with Thomas Cook India based in Mumbai. He joined a regional familiarisation trip organised by the Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau late last year, that also took him from the city down the Great Ocean Road. We asked him about his experiences.
What were the trip’s highlights?
It was my first ever trip to Australia and so my first time in Melbourne too. I had heard and read a lot about the Great Ocean Road, and I got a chance to see it first-hand. I guess there were many highlights. To name just a few – the unique choice of accommodation, the helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles, the company of knowledgeable guides and, of course, the hospitality of the MCVB.
Would you send one of your incentive groups on a trip like this?
I guess only a well-travelled customer would want to do a similar itinerary to the one that we did. Typically these would be the top brass of any major corporate so the group size would be pretty small, not more than 25-30 people.
What were your overall impressions?
Food : The only thing I can say was that MCVB went out of the way to ensure that I got vegetarian food throughout.
Accommodation: The Werribee Mansion Hotel in Melbourne was a good mixture of heritage and the contemporary. The Mantra Erskine beach resort was awesome. We got a good experience of staying in an apartment, though it was a very brief one.
Activities: They were more fun because of the excellent know-how of the terrain displayed by Big Stick Adventures. Both the buggy ride and the helicopter trip were unique – a great choice.
Organising your Melbourne Events
The Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCVB) has a Business Events Servicing Unit to help you source accommodation, venues, audiovisual equipment, corporate gifts, touring options and other products and services. It can provide on-site support, “Melbourne welcome” activities including banners and signage, assistance in facilitating welcome letters from the Lord Mayor for delegates of MCVB’s own events (if applicable) and airport assistance. Tel +61 3 9693 3333,
MCVB online services
1. Order your free Planner’s Guide from the MCVB website www.mcvb.com.au/plannersguide
2. Go to MCVB’s VenueMenu Event Planning Services (www.venuemenu.com) and choose from the options, which include completing a request for a proposal, or call +61 3 9693 3338 to find out more.
Head Office of the Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau
Level 12 IBM Centre, 60 City Road, Southbank, Victoria 3006, Australia
2108 Harbour Centre, 25 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
101 Thomson Road, #08-01 United Square, Singapore 307591