On Location: Cairns Refines its Business Event Offerings

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Cairns Convention Centre.

For more information, visit businesseventscairns.org.au or businessevents.australia.com.

It had been more than six years since my last trip to Cairns, when I attended Tourism Australia’s business events incentive showcase, Dreamtime. The city—considered the gateway to Queensland’s tropical north and the Great Barrier Reef—was almost unrecognizable—and that’s not because this time I was visiting in the height of Australian winter, a few months after the country reopened to visitors.

In 2020, Cairns Convention Centre started work on a $125 million redevelopment and expansion project—the first phase of which opened in spring 2021—with an additional 107,000-sf extension slated to debut in early 2023. The Cairns Airport—which is a 10-minute drive from town and offers connecting flights to Sydney—completed a nearly $40 million renovation of the domestic terminal, and, perhaps even more exciting, the Esplanade Dining Precinct, with its pedestrian-friendly footpaths and vertical gardens, is fresh off a major makeover. 

This revamp of the infrastructure around the lagoon has helped to shake up the sleepy city and give it a sense of vibrancy that’s reminiscent of metropolises around the world. “Australia has undergone an unprecedented level of infrastructure, which we have continued to benefit from during the pandemic,” says Robin Mack, executive general manager, commercial & business events Australia at Tourism Australia. “In fact, since the pandemic began, almost 100 new or renovated hotels have opened, representing an additional 12,000 rooms, including Crown Towers, located on Sydney Harbour, and Silky Oaks Lodge, a luxury eco-lodge located in the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest.”  

Over the past five years, Crystalbrook Collection has brought three new five-star hotels to Cairns—Crystalbrook Riley, Crystalbrook Bailey and Crystalbrook Flynn—adding a total of 877 new rooms, plus sleek venues like the city’s highest rooftop bar and restaurant, Rocco, which shows off 270-degree views of Cairns and the Coral Sea.

On the Water
During our time in Cairns, we stayed at one of the classic locales on the water, Shangri-La The Marina, Cairns, which features 255 rooms with private balconies overlooking the hotel’s gardens, Trinity Bay, and Marlin Marina—where groups can set off for thrilling jet boat trips through the mountain-encased inlet and mangrove waterways. On the wharf, about a 10-minute walk from the hotel (and even less from the convention center), Hemingway’s Brewery is housed in an open-air heritage venue and can host groups of up to 1,000 cocktail-style for local, craft brews and gastropub fare. 

The Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas, on Four Mile Beach—an hour’s drive along the coast or a short helicopter ride across the Great Barrier Reef—offers more than 20,000 sf of event space spread across 18 indoor and outdoor venues, including the pillarless Glade Pavilion, the largest resort conference facility in North Queensland, which accommodates up to 1,000. “The benefit of coming to Cairns is you have a lot of land-based activities, and while it’s a big city, it’s set in a natural environment, which is one of our greatest assets,” says Rosie Douglas, general manager, partnerships and events, Business Events Cairns and Great Barrier Reef. 

Tropical North Queensland is also Australia’s only region with two indigenous cultures—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—and we had the chance to experience multiple Welcome to Country greetings and rituals from the traditional custodians at various events and venues, starting with a performance in the gardens of the Shangri-La. “The First Nations people are an integral part of the experience, and we try and incorporate indigenous experiences throughout the activities we do, whether it’s food, language or the history of the place,” says Douglas.

For more information, visit businesseventscairns.org.au or businessevents.australia.com.

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