Natural wonder

Features
Natural wonder

CMW takes a deep dive into the great barrier reef and checks out the improving offer in Cairns.

As New Zealand and Australia opened up a travel bubble in October, maybe there is some Antipodean light emerging at the end of the dark corona tunnel.

In normal times, Cairns & Great Barrier Reef present meeting planners with a combination of sustainable, first-class facilities and operators amid an amazing natural world.

The area has twin World Heritage-listed icons, the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest – natural delegate boosters for any event. The international airport is located 10 minutes from the centre of Cairns and in a normal year it handles up to five million travellers. In August the A$55m T2 Domestic Terminal upgrade was completed.

Anyone arriving by air to Cairns can view the great natural backdrop the city and its surroundings can offer for meetings and events. Add in unique venues, varied accommodation and professional event support and services and it becomes clear why Cairns prides itself on being a ‘return-to’ due destination for planners.

In nearby Palm Cove, planners can take advantage of an oasis of luxury for groups of up to 150 at several beach resorts. Palm Cove is close to iconic attractions including Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park, AJ Hackett Cairns, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, KUR-Cow Barnwell Farm and Rainforestation Nature Park. It is a mix of unique venues, accommodation styles and local attractions that offers a great canvas for high-end smaller events and incentives.

Great Barrier Reef

Port Douglas, an hour north of Cairns along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, can handle larger conferences and incentives seeking an island vibe. Hotel and resort facilities in Port Douglas can cater for up to 850 theatre-style with a range of accommodation options.

A 40-minute boat transfer away are the tropical hideaways of Green Island and Fitzroy Island, ideal locations for smaller residential meetings, incentives or day activities.

Both islands boast meeting spaces and accommodation nestled in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as snorkelling, glass-bottom boat rides, kayaking and visits to turtle rehabilitation centres.

All these venues and accommodation facilities operate under Queensland’s Covid-Safe plans.

Business Events Cairns & Great

Barrier Reef’s general manager Rosie Douglas says the Cairns to Brisbane route is now the busiest in Australia with more flights added from September to meet the demand. Direct Gold Coast and Darwin flights were introduced from September and the Adelaide flights are returning to 100% of their pre-Covid capacity.

“Event planners even have a new venue to consider with the newly upgraded Cairns Airport domestic terminal ideal for interactive welcome events,” Douglas says. “The Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef team are conducting face-to-face site inspections for Queensland-based organisers and receiving leads for events up until 2025,” she adds.

The region’s five-star hotels and resorts have all embraced increased hygiene standards and safety protocols, procedures and training, with a particular focus on safe dining, meetings and events spaces. Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort, has taken it a step further by becoming the first Australian hospitality company to introduce a cash-free environment.

Sectoral strengths

What are the region’s strong suit sectors driving its events appeal?

Tropical fruits, sugar, coffee, fishing, grass-fed beef, free-range pork and dairy have long been part of the agriculture industry in Tropical North Queensland, while new exotic crops include cacao and vanilla. Food processing is also innovating with banana flour the newest food product in a region producing smoked meats, charcuterie and spirits.

Tourism management and training is also an area of expertise, while Cairns has a thriving marine precinct, including three shipyards as well as a naval base and defence contractors. There is also a tourism reef fleet, commercial fishing and shipping and many superyachts and cruise ships.

The region has abundant renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biomass and there are over 100 businesses operating in the renewable energy sector.

Aviation is an emerging sector for the region and international and national companies with service centres in Cairns include Hawker Pacific, a Bombardier service centre and UK-owned Cobham Aviation Services. Cairns Aviation Skills Centre and CQUniversity Aviation Campus are both located at Cairns Airport, delivering vocational and Bachelor qualifications.

Tropical health and life sciences

Tropical North Queensland offers expertise in tropical forest science, biopharmaceuticals, tropical health, tropical foods and natural resource management. James Cook University, home of the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, the Australian Tropical Forest Institute and the Australian Tropical Herbarium, conducts research encompassing public health and into tropical infectious diseases and biosecurity.

Benefits

Cairns & Great Barrier Reef conference delegates are eligible for value-adds and discounts on a range of products and services including restaurants, retail and tours and the Delegate Advantage Programme is a delegate boosting initiative which has 50 local businesses involved.

Rosie Douglas believes international events will need to be hybrid, even when face-to-face returns and explains that the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) has been lobbying government for support packages as we emerge from the pandemic. The first stage is recovery and packages are designed to stimulate growth by providing financial support to events to ensure they go ahead. This will be followed by the rebound phase designed to take advantage of new market opportunities and includes access to market research, subvention funding, visa simplification, and marketing rebates to industry for international marketing activities.

Convention Centre renewal

The Cairns Convention Centre has made good use of the pandemic downtime by investing $176m in upgrading and refurbishment to be able to welcome back meetings for up to 5,000 guests in style and in theatre style. The project will be complete in 2022 and deliver an extra 10,000sqm of meeting, banquet and exhibition space. At the Cairns convention precinct venues, hotels and local attractions are all within walking distance.

The Centre has launched a new brand, with its logo incorporating both the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest.

The Centre management shared its future priorities with CMW, listing first the promotion of the new-look venue on the back of the major refurbishment and expansion. The venue will re-open in the first quarter of 2021 although the expansion phase will not complete until mid 2022.

“The new expansion will mean the Centre will be able to host individual conferences for 500 delegates, while the entire Centre can comfortably host 2,500 delegates. The refurbished Arena will host events for up to 5,000 capacity,” says general manager Janet Hamilton. Her Business Development team has been conducting meetings with clients virtually, using a new Virtual Tours and 3D floor plan to walk clients through the spaces.

The Centre’s new brand, ‘Passion in our Nature’ and new logo represent the region’s two world-heritage listed sites. New videos about passionate people and ambassadors for Cairns have been rolled out including Andy Ridley (CEO of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef), Professor Caryn West, Dean of Research, Singapore and Professor of Nursing at James Cook University, and Norris Carter, CEO of Cairns Airport.

The team is also working on new delegate boosting material across a range of mediums designed to assist clients in promoting their conferences and to entice delegates to attend.

“When the Centre opens back up again in 2021, we will also be able to cater for our clients’ requirements in regards to hybrid events,” Hamilton adds.

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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