Graeme Kemlo takes a look at the growth in business events across Regional Victoria where big city business is increasingly taking teams to build and plan distraction-free.

With the value of confirmed regional Victorian business events business passing the $6.5 million mark, Victoria’s new government has committed to fund the Regional Victoria Business Events Program for another four years.

Business Events Victoria’s success is measured by 2014 results including a successful famil program, launch of a new Regional Victoria Planners’ Guide, leads referred to regional operators up by 18 per cent (202 total leads), plus the revenue growth.

BEV executive officer, Chris Porter, said regional Victoria will continue to benefit from government funding that “…enables the continuation of the program that has generated more than 450 business leads for regional Victoria, which represents $24 million in potential economic value over the past three years.”

Last year 23 corporate event planners visited 27 member properties during three famils to the Mornington Peninsula, Daylesford, Macedon Ranges, Ballarat and the Yarra Valley. The result so far has seen three confirmed event bookings. Chris Porter says BEV will expand its famil program for 2015.

Go West

West of Melbourne the cities of Ballarat and Geelong are winning business for their meetings facilities while business service levels, food and wine-based venues are growing on the Bellarine Peninsula, and the Grampians town of Dunkeld is building business based on culinary excellence.

Meanwhile there’s a new way of thinking about conferencing, with the rise of ‘destination conferencing’ offering unique local experiences, not simply a meeting at a venue. So says general manager of Vue Grand Queenscliff, Connie Strethen, whose boutique historic hotel has only 32 rooms, often too small to win the business.

“We wanted to turn that around and find a way that we could get these conferences to Queenscliff,” Ms Strethen said.

“We thought why can’t delegates stay with the accommodation providers throughout Queenscliff, use conference spaces around the town, and utilise Queenscliff for their destination experience?

People come to Queenscliff for a reason – the coast, the charm – so why not conference in Queenscliff, instead of just conferencing at the Vue Grand.”

The mindset change has been successful with Vue Grand and Queenscliff winning several larger conferences, including one group returning annually. Other groups extended their stay to ride the legendary Blues Train, swim with the dolphins, or simply explore more of the historic maritime location at the gateway to Port Phillip.

At Wallington on the Bellarine Peninsula, successful venues Leura Park Estate and Jack Rabbit Vineyard have spawned another event destination with the opening of Flying Brick Cider Co. It is a working cider producer as well as a large, casual venue with provedore, bar and kitchen. The quirky brand name came from the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo whose local nickname is ‘Flying
Brick’. Legend has it that if a flock of black cockatoos flies overhead, you are blessed with good luck.

At the gateway to the Great Ocean Road, Cumberland Lorne Conference Centre recently hosted 165 delegates from 17 countries for the GeoHab 2014 International Conference, hosted by Deakin University and Geoscience Australia.

Conference co-convener Daniel Ierodiaconou of Deakin University said: “When we first looked at the location for this conference we wanted a destination that could accommodate our conference requirements well, at the same time being close to some of the key natural attractions that will be visited as part of our final day field trip.”

They took in locations from Lorne to the Twelve Apostles, but a highlight was a visit to the Cape Otway Lighthouse which hosted the group for an Aussie BBQ.

“We had a great knowledge share moment with the lighthouse keeper taking a keen interest in our underwater mapping which was taken right by the lighthouse… a key landmark feature along the coast for our work. He was given a copy of the seafloor maps that can now be displayed at the centre.”

Bearing the iconic address, 1 Great Ocean Road is RACV’s RACV Torquay Resort, opened in June 2013 and in its first full year of operation celebrated a number of successes, says conference & events sales manager, Sally Hunt.

Given its proximity to some of Australia’s best known surf beaches, it is no surprise the resort’s 10 flexible conference and meeting spaces are named in celebration of surf. The Level 2 function space includes a ballroom with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the golf course and ocean. It can accommodate 340 (theatre) or can be configured into two function spaces.

Regional Cities

Citing Victoria as a key growth area, chief operating officer, Accor Pacific, Simon McGrath, announced in December that the 109-room waterfront hotel – formerly Four Points by Sheraton Geelong – had been rebranded Novotel Geelong. With five meeting spaces for 230 (theatre), 200 (banquet), it is well positioned beside Eastern Beach, an area identified by the city as the potential site of a 1000 delegate convention and exhibition centre.

This month the 71-room Ballarat Lodge changed ownership, moving into local hands after the freehold 3.18 hectare property which has a hotel, conference centre, restaurant and bar, pool and day spa facilities was sold to Bentley Property Group. Owner Justin Bentley and Ballarat hotel operator, Iain Gunn, say there are plans to further develop the property. Mr Gunn runs four-star hotels in Mildura, Horsham and Sale.

In central Victoria, Bendigo’s newest venue, Ulumbarra Theatre, built into the 1860 former Bendigo Gaol, is scheduled to open in April. It offers a 1000-seat theatre with fly tower, drama studios and learning spaces.