With a state-of-the-art convention centre just completed, and an abundance of things to see and do `beyond the ballroom’, Uluru should be on every meeting planners’ wish list, as Brad Foster discovered recently.

BY BRAD FOSTER

Make sure you book your early morning wake-up call when you stay at Ayers Rock Resort. The picturesque sunrises wait for no man, woman or child.
Additional advice is to retire early if you can drag yourself away from an evening of stargazing under crystal clear skies. When that alarm goes off somewhere between 5am and 6am so you can find the best vantage point to catch the sun’s first rays of the new day you’ll be thanking a higher being that you were tucked up in bed early.
And rise early you must in this most amazing of places. Seeing the sun appear on the horizon and the desert landscape coming alive is one of life’s great spectacles. And it can be even more spectacular from the back of a camel or riding pillion on a Harley Davidson, as our small group did courtesy of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.
Evenings are spent atop sand dunes with views to Uluru or Kata Tjuta, sipping a glass of champagne, sucking back a beer, or partaking in a nice glass of wine, watching the sun set in the western sky. Then, as you settle down for dinner, you can watch the night sky fill with stars and simply soak in the serenity of this ancient place.
Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia is the operator of Ayers Rock Resort, the best accommodation available in this part of the world aside from the nearby boutique wilderness retreat of Longitude 131°. The resort has just completed a makeover of all accommodation rooms, public areas, including the reception centre, and restaurants. And, it has to be said that it all looks pretty schmick.
But what is equally exciting for the conference and larger incentive travel sector is the opening of Uluru Meeting Place. This state-of-the-art stand-alone conference centre includes a new ballroom that can comfortably seat 420 people but which can also be sub-divided via acoustically rated walls into separate smaller meeting spaces. There is also a second ballroom that seats around 300 and which can be split to create an integrated conference arena. When combined these two rooms create a large area that is ideal for events and trade shows.
The new accommodation rooms coupled with this convention facility, a greater emphasis on higher service levels, and greater indigenous engagement, should see Ayers Rock / Uluru hosting some major meetings in the near future.
And so it should because this is one destination that really is different to anywhere else in Australia and indeed anywhere in the world.
Some people describe their first sighting and tour of Uluru as an almost spiritual experience. Speaking from personal experience I wouldn’t go that far but what I will say is that the rock, the sunrises, the desert and the stars do make you realise that there’s a much bigger world out there than you.
This famil was all about introducing our group to the new and improved Ayers Rock Resort, and helping us capture the feeling of the region through experiencing what is available to visitors and the groups market.
True to its word, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia has ramped up the opportunity for guests to engage with the indigenous community through development of a series of free activities. These include engaging in art classes, watching – and being part of the show if you like – with the Wakagetti Cultural Dance Troup which perform each day at the resort, taking a guided garden walk with an indigenous guide, listening to indigenous stories in the Circle of Sand, the so-called indigenous heart of the resort, learning to throw a spear or boomerang, and even having a blow on a didgeridoo.
Off-site experiences are also plentiful including tours of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park by motorbike, 4WD, bus, helicopter, and even camel.
One of the best options our group was fortunate enough to enjoy was the resort’s new Tali Wiru evening dining experience. Tali Wiru means `Beautiful Dune’ in the local Anangu language, and it certainly is that and much more. Arriving just prior to sunset, small groups take a short walk to the dune from their 4WD bus, about 15 minutes from Ayers Rock Resort, to be met by staff with trays of drinks. Near a fire pit a lone didgeridoo player adds to the haunting nature of the surrounding landscape.
When the sun sets candles light the way to a small flat paved area at the top of the sand dune where guests are treated to a spectacular menu of fine food with matched wines under a sky that appears to stretch forever.
The Tali Wiru dinner is only available for a maximum of 20 guests. Larger groups can enjoy the award-winning Sounds of Silence dinner. Alternatively, there are numerous spaces in and around the resort that are utilised for special group dinners and events including the Outback Pioneer Hotel which is a great option for gatherings in a relaxed, country-style setting.

Brad Foster flew, stayed, ate and wowed at Ayers Rock Resort courtesy of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.
He would like to take his family back one day, and hopes that a conference he can attend and write-off on tax is held there soon.