June 9, 2021 | By Joyce DiMascio

With the closure of Australia’s international borders, the Cairns visitor economy took quite a battering. This attracted a lot of media and political attention, especially in the earlier months of the pandemic.

But the people of Cairns are resilient – they don’t roll over and surrender.

At present the city is having a major physical revival largely off the back of improvements to the city and major infrastructure investment including in the $176 million Cairns Convention Centre refurbishment and expansion.

Janet Hamilton, the Centre’s General Manager for the past two and a bit years, has the pleasure of kicking off the new events era at the refurbished and soon-to-be-expanded facility.

The forthcoming 10,000m2 expansion – expected to open in mid-2022 – includes a large undercover, tropically planted forecourt, an expanded main entry lobby, a 410-seat plenary lecture space, three 110-seat meeting rooms, exhibition space for up to 30 display booths, a 500-seat banquet/multifunctional space with a large adjoining pre-function space and external decks with spectacular views over Trinity Inlet.

The Cairns Convention Centre has hosted three significant events since the refurbishment stage of the Centre’s redevelopment was completed last month and momentum is building for more in the future.

Hamilton really understands the power of events – she’s spent almost her entire career in the sector running events, including some of the nation’s most exciting projects. She knows the transformative power of events for a city and believes Cairns is on the cusp of a major revitalisation.

Her passion for the city and the region comes through her voice. Not big salesy spin, but a genuine narrative about the improvements that have been made to Australia’s tropical gateway.

“Cairns is such an exciting place for events. It’s a stunning location. We have stunning spaces and fresh air and the council has done a wonderful job revitalising the city.

“The city has never looked better – especially the foreshore and the Esplanade which has been turned into an outdoor dining precinct,“ she says.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the stars that I live here.”

General Manager of the Cairns Convention Centre, Janet Hamilton

Hamilton’s message to corporate event organisers and associations is to consider the merits of her city and venue.

She says it’s an easy city in which to hold events – everything is withing walking distance so there’s no need for buses and trains. Delegates can move easily between hotels, venues and other attractions.

Opening an upgraded and expanded facility comes with its own challenges but Hamilton is well equipped to understand all that is required.

Before she ran the Darwin Convention Centre for five and a half years, Janet cemented her reputation as an immensely capable organiser during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

In the lead-up to the major sporting and cultural festival, Janet Hamilton delivered around 300 events in her capacity as Program Manager, Special Events. This included managing the entertainment program for the Sponsor Village and hospitality events at the Sydney Opera House for the Olympic Arts Festivals throughout the Games period.

Janet says the experiences that are etched in her memory are the Sydney Opera House outdoor concert featuring Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli and French ballerina, Sylvie Guillem on the eve of the Games. Another of her special memories is the event for accredited world media with special guest and boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

The past 16 months have been challenging, but Hamilton is optimistic about the future. There are challenges associated with finding staff across the board – in all areas. And because of this she has a team that is flexible and works closely to support clients’ events.

Hamilton says the city really misses its international students who filled many jobs in hospitality.

She keen to share the message that working in business events and venues is a wonderful career especially for people with a creative inclination.

She believes there will be changes in the way we approach events in the future especially with hybrid formats, but she is confident people will want to return to face to face.

“There is a sense of community that is created when people are together and meeting. I hang onto that. There is a fundamental human need to meet,” she says.

Hamilton says that the restrictions and limitations of the pandemic have forced her and her team to look at different ways of doing things. She cites the saying: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Hamilton places huge trust in humanity – humans hang onto hope, she says.

“The future will sort itself out – and people will do what we want as humans and that is come together.”