August 4, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

micenet attended the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef business events showcase in Sydney yesterday and discovered a few bits of glorious tropical news from Far North Queensland.

From the bureau

Rosie Douglas, general manager of partnerships and events for Tourism Tropical North Queensland, who oversees the Business Events Cairns and Great Barrier Reef team, says the return to business in 2022 for the region has been excellent.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand at the moment, so we’ve had really strong corporate and association business come through,” said Douglas.

“What we’re finding though, it’s always been very short lead time, which I think is happening right around the country.

“We are looking at fairly strong forward bookings into 2023, but after that…once 2023 is over, I think it’ll be a levelling out period because a lot of it is actually business that’s been delayed and delayed and delayed and needs to happen.”

For those who haven’t been up to Cairns or Port Douglas since the pandemic began, she says there’s lot of new product and product developments for business events organisers to consider.

The final hotel in the Crystalbrook Collection’s trifecta of new luxury hotels, Crystalbrook Flynn, opened at the end of 2020, the Hilton Cairns has done a soft refurbishment of all their rooms and Pullman Cairns International is almost finished with a multi-million-dollar renovation of their property, which boasts the largest hotel conferencing capacity in Cairns.

In Port Douglas, the high-end Silky Oaks Lodge has also reopened after an extensive refurbishment.

Meanwhile the local spirits scene is developing at pace, with major brewery Hemingways now making award-wining gin while a new gin bar from the also-award-winning Wolf Lane Distillery has opened in a Cairns laneway, offering new options for post-dinner nightcaps for business events delegates.

Experience Co has recently launched its new pontoon on one of the outer reefs off the coast of Cairns and, of course, the Cairns Convention Centre has debuted its refurbishment, with the much-anticipated centre expansion set to open in May 2023.

What the Cairns Convention Centre will look like once the expansion is complete

From the convention centre

Cairns Convention Centre is certainly in a good place as it awaits the opening of its expansion next year.

“We’ve broken a 25 year record of active bids,” the venue’s director of business development Wayne Smith told micenet yesterday.

The record was broken in May this year and since then the team has “substantially increased” bids in play over and above the record that had previously stood for the entire life of the convention centre.

Smith said the expansion was coming along well.

“We’re still on track for a December 2022 completion,” he said, adding that the venue team will use the first part of 2023 to commission new equipment for the expansion and make sure the new part of the building is workable, before it hosts its first events in May 2023.

“We’re solidly booked from May ‘23 forward,” said Smith.

The expansion will deliver 10,000m2 of new space at the centre, including a new third floor with space for conference plenaries and gala dinners and an outdoor terrace facing Trinity Inlet, the body of water around which Cairns is built.

“Everyone’s really excited. It’s a beautiful premium space for Cairns. The beautiful, spectacular views, looking out over Trinity Inlet are awesome – it [takes] conferencing to the next level,” said Smith.

As business comes back – including four international conferences locked and loaded for 2023 – Smith said that although the pipeline is “really, really strong”, there is still some hesitancy amongst clients.

“A lot of clients are still a little bit reluctant in the contract signing, which I think is really understandable – the uncertainty, they want to get through their conferences for this year before they think about the ‘23, through to ’24, through to ’25 [events].”

From Experience Co

Experience Co’s sustainable new pontoon – one of the largest on the Great Barrier Reef – went into the water in April and it’s already being put through its paces in terms of what’s possible for business events.

Ahead of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup that will take place across Australia in October and November 2022, the winners’ trophy was brought out to the Reef Magic pontoon, with the 45-pax buyout also including plenty of ICC T20 branding and a cricket pitch installed on deck for a quick game.

“I think the pitch on the pontoon was a really good starting point in terms of what potentially a takeover could do,” said Experience Co’s head of sales for North Queensland, Lisa Chambers.

“We can host up to 300 and we are looking to get it surveyed to go larger again.”

With a laboratory onboard the new pontoon, there are also possibilities to immerse business events delegates in the work being undertaken with live coral fragments to protect and regrow the Great Barrier Reef.

“We’ve got the fully working laboratory, so we can show them from start to finish all our research projects and how it starts in the lab and then how we move it onto the reef restoration project.”

As part of the continuing work, live bits of broken coral are collected from the sea floor and go on to be attached to biodegradable metal frames on the reef, before being subsumed back into the reef’s natural ecosystem.

The new pontoon is completely sustainable, with solar panels and a wind turbine on board to power activities on the static vessel. As part of experiences on Reef Magic, Experience Co is also doing more to share stories from their Indigenous staff who explain to visitors the meaning of the land and seascape to them and their ancestors.

And for a wonderful opening touch, there are gaps in the panelled floor of the pontoon allowing the turquoise of the water to shimmer up from beneath, creating a big first impression as guests step aboard.

Playing cricket on Reef Magic