There is nothing like Australia for business events...not a mere boast

A slowdown in its traditional Europe and US markets and increased competition from destinations such as Singapore – whose integrated resorts and upcoming attractions make it an equally aspiring destination for Asian visitors – are key concerns.

At a time when it wants to endear itself further to regional markets, Asian planners are murmuring about rising costs due to higher room rates and the strength of the Australian dollar. Its main carrier, and a good partner of Tourism Australia, Qantas Airways, is still mired in muck after the sensational pilots’ grounding last year.

All this is calling on Australia’s fighting spirit to stay on course. So far, it is showing it is no sleepy-eyed koala.

A new business events campaign, an extension of the country’s latest tourism branding, There’s nothing like Australia, has been unveiled. Three business events-specific creatives are being placed in print and online publications in key international markets including the UK, Europe, US, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and India and in four different languages.

Supporting planners to concoct a business event like no other in Australia is a new dedicated website, www.businessevents.australia.com, which fields suggested itineraries, case studies, supplier contacts and other relevant information. The site will be translated to other languages, starting with Chinese and Korean later this year, “a proof of Tourism Australia’s ongoing commitment to business events and emerging Asian markets”, said Tourism Australia’s managing director, Andrew McEvoy.

Asked by TTGmice to pick three aspects of Australia that to him are different and world-class, McEvoy said: “Our natural landscapes and natural animals – there’s nothing like it. Our built product, eg, Sydney, the harbour and the product built on it, or the privately-held luxury lodges like Southern Ocean Lodge (Kangaroo Island) and Wolgan Valley (Resort & Spa in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Region) – there’s nothing like it. And of course our people.”

The campaign’s creatives try to capture all this using powerful imagery, tagline and planner testimonial. The first two feature corporate events in Sydney and Uluru, while the third, aimed at association meetings, uses a Melbourne image. The city just added the International AIDS Conference in 2014, the largest medical conference ever to be held in Australia, to its bonnet. ‘There’s nothing like Australia to inspire the world’s greatest minds’, says the Melbourne creative.

The campaign also comes at a time when Australia’s tourism product is changing. The luxury lodges which McEvoy referred to, for instance, had none of the critical mass they boast today, so much so that an alliance, Luxury Lodges of Australia (www.luxurylodgesofaustralia.com.au), could be launched last year. These ‘lodges’ offer wonderful settings that hold a torch to Australia’s claim there is nothing like it. One such group experience, at Wolgan Valley, is a gala dinner in the open-air compound of a historic 1832 Homestead with 360-degree views of rugged wilderness and spectacular rock formations.

Private sector investment is not just restricted to small and innovative entrepreneurs such as the individual owners of Luxury Lodges of Australia. A whopping A$870 million has been poured a re-orientation of Star City, New South Wales’ only casino, into a leisure and MICE destination, with another A$100 milion being spent on an Events Centre, which is a 2,200m2 column-free space that can seat 3,000 pax when it is completed in early 2013.

Melbourne, which maintains a fierce but friendly rivalry with Sydney, has not stopped developing itself. The South Wharf Promenade, with its distinctive maritime heritage, is starting to teem with more restaurants, bars and a variety of shops. Hotels within the vicinity keep the product fresh; an example is Crown Towers, which has just spent big bucks on a redesign of its Crystal Club and villas. Just two years ago, it embarked on a A$65 million renovation on normal rooms.

Beyond physical product development, Melbourne is reinventing itself as a lifestyle destination for meeting and incentive groups. The Melbourne Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCVB) works with Myer, Australia’s largest deparment store chain, for example, to do fashion themes for groups, or with airlines such as Cathay Pacific for gourmet trips. From farm to fork, hat-making to shopping, “it is all about experience these days”, as MCVB director-international incentives, Edwina San, said.

“The market, whether South-east Asia or North-east Asia, is really into experiential activities than straight touring. Groups want to leave with lasting memories – they want to go to strawberry farms to pick and eat the strawberries, not just buy that straight from the supermarkets,” said San.

The Asian market is now Australia’s key international focus, with McEvoy saying that roughly 60 per cent of the marketing budget now goes to the region and 40 per cent to traditional UK, Europe and US markets – a reversal from before – and for good reason. Latest statistics show a 26 per cent growth in total business arrivals from China and nine per cent each from Singapore and Indonesia for the year ended December 31, 2011. Other Asian markets remained the same or showed small growths in business arrivals, however.

What stands in the way of spectacular  growths from the region is currency appreciation, coupled with the general view – perceived or real – that Australia is an expensive city, thanks to its booming economy which has raised salaries and standard of living.

A buyer from Singapore interviewed at Dreamtime in November last year said: “The strengthened currency is a real issue, as it costs more to feature Australia. On top of that, the cost of accommodation has gone up. Arrivals from China and India are filling up rooms, thus high rates can be sustained. We can’t get anything below A$200.”

Esa Tour Indonesia business development director, Ida Robinson, agreed. But that is not stopping her from sending a 2,000-pax Indonesian incentive group to Sydney this March. The winners are Tupperware’s direct sellers in top, middle and lower tiers who have achieved sales targets, according to sources. Last year, they went to Beijing.

“Australia is the closest country to Indonesia where they can enjoy a different culture,” Ida said.

And, Australians would argue, there’s nothing like it.