Australia’s considerable credentials as a modern business events gem only continues to grow.
We listened as celebrity chef Matt Moran rhapsodized about Australia’s passionate food scene during a cocktail party at his open-air River Bar & Kitchen, overlooking Brisbane’s Story Bridge. The bridge happened to be custom-lit for the occasion: Tourism Australia’s Dreamtime, a bi-annual signature showcase of Australia’s incentives held for the first time in Brisbane and easily one of its friendliest, most affordable, and most eager to host meetings and incentives attendees.
Also enjoying the convivial spirit—and surprise fireworks display—was the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Graham Quirk. “Brisbane is Australia’s ‘New World City’ with an abundance of Australian experiences,” Quick said. “We hope this welcome event gives delegates a taste of what Brisbane can offer.”
Brisbane’s location on Australia’s central east coast makes it a valuable international hub and convenient jumping-off point for excursions along the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, the rolling Scenic Rim, sand dunes, dugongs and friendly dolphins of Moreton Island National Park, and the most accessible southern islands of the Great Barrier Reef. “We are quite literally Australia’s front door to the rest of the world,” says Juliet Alabaster, acting general manager of the Brisbane Convention Bureau. And rightly so.
We were tempted to climb the picturesque bridge for a birds-eye team building experience, but were instead treated to a VIP tour of the impressive Gallery of Modern Art, an avant-garde vegan lunch at Urbane Restaurant, and a panoramic networking reception at Eleven Rooftop Bar with two of Brisbane’s most acclaimed residents: dancer Li Cunxin and World Welterweight Champion boxer Jeff Horn. A beer tasting led by Newstead Brewery co-owner Michael Conrad followed by a “Thanks for Rocking Up” feast by Virgin Australia on the Victorian balcony of the 140-year-old Regatta Hotel came next, though a sunset aerial display by hundreds of “flying fox” mega-bats out for a nibble along the serpentine Brisbane River stole the show.
About an hour outside of the city centre a wide range of group excursions, including a Miramar Cruises riverboat ride to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where we cuddled with koalas, hand-feed kangaroos, and took selfies with emo emus, await groups. We sipped award-winning vino and dined al fresco at Sirromet, a stunning winery for concerts and tented events on the green (if attendees don’t mind wild wallabies and cockatoos occasionally crashing the party). Heading inland, we took a drive through the Australian Bush to idyllic Spicers Hidden Vale, a historic luxury lodge retreat and genuine farm-to-table destination ideal for buyouts and gourmet events. Like a dream sequence, helicopters landed in Spicer’s paddock to whisk Dreamtime’s North American delegates for wine tasting and tea at the Kooroomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm, followed by a heart-pumping heli-tour through the mountains, and over the stunning high-rises along the Gold Coast beach.
By the time we landed at the historic Brisbane Exhibition Grounds, we thought we’d seen it all. But the city of Brisbane and Tourism Australia pulled out the stops with a dinner gala for 260 attendees at the Queensland Art Gallery’s jaw-dropping Watermall space, where we were wowed by a multisensory art, acrobatic and musical experience. Long tables were lit by LED lights programmed to changed colors, menus were written in invisible ink that required ultraviolet flashlights provided at each place setting and a changing light art installation lit a massive three-story backdrop.
“The Watermall gala was the ideal demonstration of how Australia’s talented event organizers and companies bring to life creativity, hospitality and a sense of occasion,” John O’Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia said.
Over the course of the next three days, we were immersed in the riches of Cairns, a 2-hour flight from Brisbane on Virgin Australia. The first stop was the 84-year-old Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures ecotourism attraction for up-close native animal encounters (no cuddles with crocs, but a friendly wombat was happy to oblige). From our resort home-base at the Sheraton Grand Mirage in Port Douglas, the incredibly knowledgeable Rosie Douglas, director of business and tourism events for tourism tropical north Queensland led an exploration of the Great Barrier Reef, where charter yachts and helicopters can take groups to private pontoons for bucket-list diving and snorkeling. Queensland’s tropical north is also home to the Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge Centre, where the local Kuku Yalanji people led our group on a 90-minute “Dreamtime Gorge Walk,” complete with a traditional smoking ceremony and forest trek to sacred Aboriginal sites. At the end of the exhaustive 5-day event, one thing was certain: Dreamtime Australia is aptly named, because one experience after another was a like a waking dream come true.
The Watermall gala was the ideal demonstration of how Australia’s talented event organizers and companies bring to life creativity, hospitality and a sense of occasion.
The Brisbane Boom
We’re told that Brisbane is experiencing a building boom, with new developments in the city center and South Bank district, which will soon offer a mix of hotels, residences, markets, art exhibitions and live entertainment venues. The city’s first five-star property opens this month with the debut of the 344-room W Brisbane on the Brisbane River shore, providing chic indoor-outdoor event space for up to 750 attendees. “It marks the return of the W brand to Australia and is the most exciting new-build in Brisbane in 20 years,” says General Manager Hal Philp. The new Howard Smith Wharves precinct will redefine the Brisbane River area at Story Bridge this year as well, offering a new Art Series hotel, craft brewery, restaurants and other event venues for up to 2,000 attendees. By 2022, more premium brands will be entering the Brisbane marketplace, including a new Ritz Carlton, Rosewood, and a second Emporium at South Bank’s $590 million Southpoint development. To support the growth, an airport expansion and international cruise port terminal are underway.
Prevue was among the 19 international media invitees and 99 elite incentive planners and who attended Dreamtime for one-on-one meetings with 88 Australian Convention Bureaus and incentive operators from all six states and territories: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia, plus the national capital, Canberra. This year, the Dreamtime spotlight belonged to Brisbane and the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, the city’s largest meetings and events venue for up to 8,000 attendees. The opening ceremony at the BCEC set the stage with a ceremonial welcome featuring dancers from the Aboriginal Performing Arts College.
“We are very excited to demonstrate Australia’s strengths in delivering corporate incentive programs that encourage and reward high performance,” said John O’Sullivan, Managing Director of Tourism Australia. “Dreamtime introduced our delegates to the creativity, energy and professionalism of our business events industry.”
Getting there was half the fun. Dreamtime’s US delegates met in Los Angeles for a non-stop flight to Brisbane in Virgin Australia’s award-winning “The Business” class, which has more in common with first class than business. Featuring private suites with 100% aisle access, fully adjustable lie-flat beds with memory foam mattresses, 18-inch hi-def entertainment touch screens, world-class wines, private bar lounge, dedicated women’s dressing loo, and restaurant-style service with menus by Aussie celebrity chef Luke Mangan, it was hands-down the best long-haul flight I’ve ever experienced.