Australia is Open for Business Events

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Australia On Tour’s panel discussion. Left to Right: Chris Allison, Acting General Manager, Americas, Tourism Australia (Moderator); Chef Dan Churchill; Susan Coghill, Chief Marketing Officer, Tourism Australia; Steven Paganelli, CDME, Director, Destinations, Hotels and OTAs, Tripadvisor; and Dave Thomas, Vice President Sales, Americas, Qantas.

Prevue caught up with Australia on Tour in Los Angeles and heard the latest updates from Tourism Australia’s Business Events Team following the country reopening its borders to tourism in February 2022.

Hosted at Playa Studios in Culver City, the event featured special guest Chef Dan Churchill, author of The Healthy Cook and proprietor of Charley St, an Australia-inspired restaurant in New York City, who spoke on the panel at the event and prepared Lemon Myrtle Prawns and Plum Panna Cotta at a food station.

Prevue sat down with Tourism Australia’s Mary Ann McDonald, business events manager, Americas; Susan Coghill, chief marketing officer; and Chris Allison, acting general manager, Americas, ahead of the main panel discussion for an insight into Australia’s business events market.

“What people are looking for as they’re starting to travel again is wanting to be in more wide-open spaces with fresh air,” says Susan Coghill. “And not only do we have wonderful, wide-open natural destinations, but also if you look at the outdoors lifestyle of all our cities, Australians are outside a lot, so it just it makes sense for it to translate into business events. I think it’s important for people to come down and experience it, and live like an Aussie for a week or two or longer.”

Domestic business events have been strong during the pandemic, according to the team, and the product side has also been strong, with a pipeline of hotel development in place.

CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park is a new events and conference venue that opened in September 2021, built to host major events such as the Australian Open. The venue spans over 48,438 sf across three levels, and can host up to 3,000 for a reception and 1,400 for a banquet. Spaces include the 21,527-sf pillarless Grand Hall, with floor-to-ceiling windows and 28-ft high ceilings, and opening onto a 8611-sf pre-function space and expansive outdoor terrace, boasting views of the Melbourne city skyline.

Crown Towers Sydney became the tallest building in the city when it opened in December 2020, boasting a unique, sculpted architectural design that provides all 400 of its rooms with floor-to-ceiling harbor views. Meeting space includes the Pearl Ballroom, which can accommodate up to 350 guests; the Opal Suite, accommodating up to 50 for more intimate events; and the outdoor Pavilion, accommodating up to 40 guests and offering panoramic views over Sydney’s waterfront.

Cairns Convention Centre in Cairns, Queensland, completed a refurbishment in May 2021, and is currently undergoing an expansion that will add 113,021 sf of additional space. New facilities will include a large, undercover, tropically planted forecourt; an expanded main entry lobby; a 410-seat plenary lecture space; three 120-seat meeting rooms; exhibition space for up to 30 display booths; a 500-seat rooftop banquet space and sky terrace with views over Trinity Inlet.

Set to open in June 2022 is the Melbourne Skyfarm, a collaboration between Melbourne-based sustainability companies to convert a 21,527-sf rooftop parking lot into a working urban farm and environmental oasis in the heart of Melbourne. The urban farm will feature a rooftop orchard, herb gardens, nursery, and a sustainable 90-seat licensed cafe. The Skyfarm will offer space for private events, run workshops and tours, and is expected to generate five tonnes of produce every year, most of which will help food rescue organization OzHarvest continue its work in addressing food insecurity.

Chef Dan Churchill provides a taste of Australian cuisine at a food station.

The Australian government recently announced that beginning April 18, international travelers will still need to provide proof of vaccination to enter the country, but will no longer be required to provide evidence of pre-travel testing. The removal of this friction point is expected to increase travel to Australia, as the country begins to loosen its restrictions for managing the pandemic.

“Because business events have been running successfully domestically over the last couple of years, they’ve been able to develop really strong policies around Covid management and Covid-safe practices,” says Chris Allison.

Business Events Australia offers a resource on its website which outlines the key guidelines in each of the states concerning regulations, capacities, and Covid-safe management plans, as well as the hygiene measures in place at convention centers, venues and hotels.

“It pulls together everything, all the state regulations and venue regulations, and it’s updated regularly, so it’s always something to have in your back pocket,” says Mary Ann McDonald. “It’s a fantastic resource, as it collates all the information so that you don’t have to trawl through all the different websites, and people have found it extremely valuable trying to negotiate how to put on business events in Australia.”

Australian Airline Qantas has recently announced a new direct route from Dallas Fort Worth to Melbourne as well as a significant increase to its flights from Los Angeles. Beginning in December 2022, Qantas will operate four weekly return flights from Dallas to Melbourne, which will be the first direct flights by any airline between the two cities, and follows the success of the airline’s long-standing Dallas to Sydney route.

“We’re actually really lucky in Australia that we have a strong pipeline of how aviation is going to build back, particularly over the next six months to the end of the year,” says Chris Allison. “So right now, we’re at 52 percent of pre-Covid capacity for the month of April, and that will sit right through the summer. But as we move towards the end of this year, we’ll be back up to 70 to 80 percent of pre-Covid capacity, which is really strong relative to a lot of other destinations.”

Tourism Australia has also recently extended its Business Events Bid Fund Program, which is designed to deliver the conversion of new business in situations where Australia is bidding against international competitors for the right to host a business event. The program provides funding that can be used for event costs including accommodation, venue hire, F&B and transportation. International association events and exhibitions that attract a minimum of 400 international visitors are eligible for the funding, as are international incentive events that attract 700 international visitors and bring an economic value of more than A$3 million to Australia. Applicants must match Tourism Australia’s investment with an equal direct financial contribution, and submissions must be for a minimum of A$50,000.

“Tourism Australia just received a lot of new funding, and five million of that is for the Business Events Bid Fund,” says Mary Ann McDonald. “It has been extraordinarily successful, and it’s nice to have that backing of the government and their acknowledgement of how important this market is to the country.”

The three biggest draws to Australia for meeting and incentive planners, according to the Business Events team, are the people, the fact that it is a safe and well-managed destination, and the diversity of experience that the country offers.

Lemon Myrtle Prawns prepared by Chef Dan Churchill

“I think Australia is probably one of the most diverse destinations in terms of variety of experience,” says Chris Allison. “You’ve got cities, you’ve got beaches, you’ve got the Outback, you’ve got the indigenous experience, you’ve got the rainforest, you’ve got coral reefs—and all of that is very accessible. And it’s not just rainforest, the Daintree Rainforest is literally the oldest rainforest in the world, and it’s right next to the Great Barrier Reef, which may be the only two World Heritage-listed icons that are next to each other.”

During the panel discussion at the event, Tourism Australia communicated that one of its goals was to encourage travelers to explore beyond the familiar gateways to the country. Over the past two years, while Australia’s borders have remained closed for international travel, many Australians began to travel more domestically and the biggest growth has been in under-explored destinations that offer hyper-local experiences. This has also influenced the country’s culinary scene, as chefs have become more in-tune with the indigenous culinary influence and the ingredients that are all around them, rather than looking internationally.

The emphasis on storytelling through food has become a significant trend, as chefs seek to communicate indigenous history through local ingredients and seasonal produce from Australian farms. The panelists also noted how Los Angeles’ cafe culture has been influenced by Australian cafe culture, as Australian food trends such as flat white coffee and avocado toast have grown in popularity. Australian cafe culture combines an elevated breakfast experience using high quality produce and ingredients, with friendly and unpretentious service in a casual and relaxed setting, and its growing influence in the US market is another driver of culinary tourism.

“Our food and wine is one of our best kept secrets,” says Susan Coghill. “We know that when people come to Australia, they have certain perceptions, but then they leave with those perceptions significantly improved. We go from being thought of as around eight or nine on the list of food and wine destinations, and then they leave ranking us next to France and Italy because of the quality of the produce and the quality of the wine that they experience.”

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