A hub of fashion, food and frivolity, Melbourne was recently recognised as Australasia’s leading meetings and conference destination at this year’s World Tourism Awards – and for good reason. By Lauren Arena

Incentive groups will revel in this vivacious city, fondly known as Australia’s cultural and sporting capital, and with a year-round calendar that’s absolutely jam-packed with local, national, and international events, there’s never a dull moment.

Alongside high-octane events like the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, the Australian Open Tennis Championships, and the fashionably fierce Melbourne Cup racing carnival, there are hundreds of art galleries and museums scattered throughout the city, hidden in cobblestone laneways and historic art deco arcades.

Multicultural Melbourne comes to life through a celebration of local food and wine at the Queen Victoria Market, the largest market in the southern hemisphere, and at world-renowned wineries in the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley.

In between hot-air ballooning over wine country and wading through the mineral springs and glamorous spas of Daylesford in regional Victoria, delegates can charter private luxury yachts and swim with dolphins in Port Phillip Bay or get up close and personal with the world’s smallest penguins as they waddle ashore in the ultimate Penguin Parade at Phillip Island Nature Park.

There’s also the natural charm of the Great Ocean Road, voted the best coastal drive on the planet by Conde Nast Traveller. Incentive groups can hire luxury sports cars to make the most of the journey, winding past cliffs, rainforests, sunken ships, whaling watching points and the majestic Twelve Apostles.

Best bites

Whether it’s fine dining, café culture or niche bars, Melbourne’s restaurateurs are serious when it comes to food. Groups can experience more of Melbourne by exploring its vibrant laneway dining options and chic restaurants that showcase the best in modern Australian cuisine. Examples include:

Pei Modern – A contemporary bistro housed in the forecourt of Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, this restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor dining alongside a sophisticated menu that focuses on seasonal produce, a quirky wine list, and a casual atmosphere – it’s modern bistronomy at its finest. www.peimodern.com.au

Attica – Serving a five and eight-course degustation menu with intricate links to nature (think edible wild plants and fish cooked in smoking paperbark), chef Ben Shewry’s innovative cooking and plating techniques make eating an experience. The space is elegant and dimly lit, allowing the food to do all the talking. www.attica.com.au

Cutler & Co. – A swanky Fitzroy dining room and bar housed in an old meat works factory, there’s an open plan kitchen and substantial lounge area that create a cool sense of stylish simplicity in this fine dining establishment. Both the a la carte and degustation menus are full of surprises, with dishes like reimagined steak tartare with dried scallop crackers and desserts that include Earl Grey ice cream and candied fennel frongs. www.cutlerandco.com.au

Vue De Monde – In a sophisticated space on the 55th floor of Melbourne’s iconic Rialto building, Vue de Monde is the pinnacle of fine dining. The view is dazzling and chef Shannon Bennett’s smart, skilful, and often theatrical degustation menu completes the dining experience. With cutting-edge techniques and global influences, dishes include salt-cured wallaby and tea-smoked salmon pearls, with details like liquid nitrogen-frozen herbs, tomato jelly and wasabi snow. www.vuedemonde.com.au

Café Di Stasio – A Melbourne institution, Café Di Stasio is currently celebrating 25 years of operation but its linen-draped tables, engaging white-jacketed waiters and flattering lighting give the place an elegant, timeless feel. The menu highlights traditional Italian cuisine with a variety of pasta, fish and game. An extension of the restaurant recently opened next door, Bar Di Stasio is connected to the main dining room through narrow voids and serves beautifully presented cocktails along with a substantial bar menu. www.distasio.com.au

Flower Drum – Providing the benchmark in upscale Cantonese cuisine, Flower Drum is currently in its fourth decade and the quality and attention to detail – in both the food and the fit-out – remains top-notch. A la carte and banquet menus feature outstanding seafood and signature dishes such as Peking duck, sautéed pearl meat and quail sang choi bau, while the dining room is decorated with Chinese artwork and red carpets. www.flower-drum.com

Amway India gives Melbourne the thumbs up

Melbourne’s status as a premier incentive travel destination has been confirmed after a survey of Amway India Leadership Seminar 2012 delegates revealed exceptional results for the destination and an outstanding satisfaction rating among participants.

Conducted earlier this year by the Melbourne Convention Bureau (MCB), the survey showed 91 per cent of respondents were happy with the conference facilities and more than 95 per cent felt welcome and safe in the city.

In December 2012, 3891 delegates descended on Melbourne for the Amway India Leadership Seminar – the largest Indian incentive group ever hosted in Australia – and an extensive seven-day itinerary of activities.

The event also shed a positive light on the state’s tourism industry, with 95 per cent of delegates stating they would recommend Melbourne as a place to visit to their family and colleagues, and 79 per cent saying they would return for a holiday.

MCB chief executive officer, Karen Bolinger, said “Melbourne’s leading business events suppliers worked extremely well together and really stepped up to the mark during the seminar, allowing each delegate to have a truly unique program.”

A year on, the city’s reputation as a premier incentive destination is set to shine once more as the host destination for Dreamtime 2013.

“This event will bring 125 international business events decision makers from 11 countries, including India, together with the Australian business events industry to experience the country’s capabilities for hosting events as we continue to promote Melbourne and Australia to the world,” Ms Bolinger said.