GOING FOR GOLD
From chilled surfing hotspot to host of 2018’s upcoming Commonwealth Games, Australia’s Gold Coast is banking on a sunny future for both tourism and the events industry. Valerian Ho investigates
Queensland continues to make waves among MICE delegates
Ashort hop south of Brisbane on Australia’s eastern coast, the 57km stretch of pristine beachfront coastline known as the Gold Coast is bathed in glorious sunshine for more than 300 days a year. Behind its beachfront visage, however, the once sleepy seaside town has grown into a booming metropolis – the sixth largest in Australia.
Served by two international airports – Gold Coast International Airport (OOL) and Brisbane International Airport (BNE) – the city welcomed a record-breaking 1.1 million international travellers for business and leisure last year.
In April, the Gold Coast will gain even more international exposure when it hosts the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The 11-day elite competition will be the second-largest sporting event ever held in Australia (after the Sydney Olympics in 2000), welcoming 6,600 athletes and team officials from 70 nations and territories.
As a global event of major significance, it has received more than A$1 billion (US$785 million) in government funding for the construction of venues such as the Commonwealth Village and Carrara Sports Precinct. Major infrastructural upgrades have also taken place, including a light-rail extension and various road improvements, while private sector investments have followed thick and fast, with a raft of new accommodation venues, event facilities and entertainment options.
This burst of activity has fuelled a boom in the city’s three dominant economies – tourism, construction and real estate – as well as providing lucrative opportunities for other rapidly emerging industries.
One sector primed to make the most of the spotlight is the meetings, conference and events (MICE) sector. “The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games is the largest event Australia will see this decade, and the opportunities for business events to tap into the spin-off benefits the event generates are very exciting,” says Anna Case, director of Gold Coast Business Events.
The Games couldn’t come at a better time for the MICE industry, which is already strengthening at pace. The number of meetings and conferences in the Gold Coast last year increased 21 per cent in the 12 months up to June 30, 2016, in the process injecting an estimated A$565 million (US$443 million) into the local economy – not including pre-and post-event spending.
The health and medical sectors in particular seem to enjoy the Gold Coast’s appeal, contributing more than A$1.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) in annual revenue according to Lauren Mcgann, business development manager of the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC). “The medical and science markets are growing and becoming more popular in Gold Coast, because it has facilities such as the hospital, four universities and a Health and Knowledge Precinct,” she says.
Indeed, some of the largest conferences the Gold Coast has hosted have been in the health industry, a highlight being the 7,000-strong delegation from Amway China, with more planned for the coming year including the Nu Skin Korea BDMS Success Trip scheduled for April 2018.
VENUES PRESENT AND FUTURE
Broadbeach is the main business district and home to the GCCEC, which rakes in over A$200 million (US$157 million) annually. The 10,000 sqm exhibition centre features four exhibition halls, 22 meeting rooms and a massive arena which can accommodate 6,000 guests. It also has 2,000 sqm of parkland space for all kinds of activities, from cocktail parties on the front lawn to riverside events. Another key facility is Seaworld Resort and Conference Centre. Not many venues can match Seaworld when it comes to post-meeting wind-downs. The resort provides a range of unusual experiences, from exclusive dolphin shows to a local school choir performance – and special guests can even be greeted by a sea lion. The theme park’s rides and characters also provide a special treat for post-conference and incentive groups. However, with the momentum driven by the Commonwealth Games, a slew of new facilities are in the offing.“We’re seeing an incredible injection of new infrastructure that will bring a lasting legacy to the business events industry with new event space and upgraded venues,” says Case. Connected to the GCCEC by a covered walkway is The Star Gold Coast (formerly Jupiter’s Hotel – a Gold Coast institution since it opened in 1985). The rebranded facility offers a pillarless ballroom catering to 1,800 guests, an outdoor Pavilion Marquee with poolside events space, the newly refurbished Pavilion Lawn that offers a stunning outdoor setting, and a 2,150-seat theatre capable of hosting large concerts. By 2020, a new hotel and residential tower is set to open, representing an investment of A$850 million (US$667 million). Additions will include a “six-star luxury hotel”, due to open before the Games, plus an additional hotel and apartment tower to bring the resort’s total number of guestrooms to almost 1,400.
Also in the pipeline are another couple of gems, which will bring new accommodation, entertainment and event space to the area. The giant Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group is set to open the Jewel in 2018, a mixed-use development building spread over three towers that will offer a five-star Wanda Vista Hotel and serviced apartments. Other facilities will include conference rooms, restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities.
Another A$1.4 billion (US$1.1 billion) integrated residential and resort project called Ruby will also be a game changer when it opens in time for the Commonwealth Games, adding over a thousand apartments to the Surfers Paradise area plus event space and entertainment choices such as an ice-skating rink and climbing wall.
Aside from infrastructure, what the Gold Coast really has in spades is a ready-made arsenal of tempting incentives to treat large event groups or individual travellers. From golden beaches that host the legendary Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast surfing championships each year, to World Heritage-listed rainforests teeming with biodiversity, the city is blessed with beautiful natural
assets just a 30-minute ride from the city centre. It also boasts a huge concentration of attractions, from theme parks to animal sanctuaries and water activities.
Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan have all shown strong appetites for the sun, surf and sand that the Gold Coast has in abundance, but China in particular is leading the way. In a recent survey by Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agent, both Chinese leisure and business travellers voted the Gold Coast as one of their top ten destinations in the world.
In May, the city is set to welcome its biggest incentive group ever, with 8,000 delegates from Infinitus China – one of the largest personal health care companies in China. The week-long incentive programme is expected to generate more than A$50 million (US$39 million).
The itinerary is being prepared by Gold Coast Business Events and has been designed to showcase the highlights of Australia, from native animal experiences like feeding kangaroos and cuddling koalas, to barbecues on outback farms. Delegates may also find themselves rolling up their trousers to catch mud crabs from the river, whale spotting at Point Danger, climbing the Skypoint for 360-degree views of the coastline, planting gum trees for the Save Koala foundation or donning a wetsuit and heading for a surf lesson.
“We’re in the best position now to take advantage of the international focus on the Gold Coast with a renewed offering for groups to meet here,” says Case. “Our city has never looked better and in 2018, delegates will experience the unmistakable buzz of the city chosen to host the biggest event in Australia this decade.”
This page from above: Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre; and the Surfers Paradise coastline Opposite: Sun, surf and a city skyline
This page from
top: A suite in The Star Gold Coast; The Star’s theatre; and the GCCEC
Opposite: The Star’s Pavilion Lawn