Cricket legend Merv Hughes summed up why there’s nothing like Australia when he told Dreamtime delegates at the MCG that whatever you do in life you should simply “have a go”. By Brad Foster

It is such a sublimely Australian saying that it really should be the catchcry of everything that we do. Chant it in our schools, on the sporting field, in our hallowed halls of academia, and in research centres around the country.

Whether it was lost on the numerous Indian hosted buyers at Dreamtime that Merv was directing it to in early December remains unknown. But what is known is that this event, Tourism Australia’s key powwow for incentive travel buyers, will leave an indelible mark on all who attended.

And there were a few. Eighty-five international hosted buyers and 18 media representatives met with, chatted to, experienced, dined and… partied with 69 of Australia’s leading product suppliers for the incentive travel sector over two days in Melbourne and then in other destinations including Uluru, Sydney and Cairns. Adelaide was a pre-event tour option to allow the Indian delegation the opportunity to spend a day at the Ashes Test match.

Tabletop presentations – much like speed dating – was the order of the first day, with sellers reporting some strong leads and the very real chance of seeing business down the track. The reduced cost of participating saw more sellers than the last Dreamtime outing which was great news for hosted buyers, giving them a better cross-section of product suppliers around the country.

International and local media had a half day of tabletop presentations. And good news too. After a sumptuous breakfast courtesy of the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, executive chef, Tony Panetta, and celebrity chef, Guy Grossit, tummies were rumbling by midday.

Media were transferred to chef Shannon Bennet’s Vue De Monde restaurant for lunch, savouring delicacies including tree smoked salmon pearls, emu jerky and salt cured wallaby.

Afternoon activities included a rally with Big Stick Adventures aboard hot rod cars followed by a presentation by key individuals responsible for some of Melbourne’s largest events including the Emirates Melbourne Cup, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, and the Australia Open (tennis).

Media, hosted buyers and sellers came together in the evening for a casual cocktail event at Alto located above the Melbourne GPO. This is an über cool event venue bar the lift access which struggled with the 150 plus attendees alighting transfers close together.

Day two kicked off in style with a casual breakfast at Captain Baxter at St Kilda Sea Baths on St Kilda Beach. Catering at this indoor outdoor venue was nothing short of superb, with some great breakfast options and plenty of fresh coffee.

Hosted buyers then departed for a series of activities including a helicopter tour and lunch along the Great Ocean Road, a tour of the MCG and its new National Sports Museum, with a hit of cricket included in the nets, a millinery workshop, and a series of walking tours – coffee or exploration of the Indigenous history of Melbourne.

Lunch courtesy of the Atlantic Group [v] at Central Pier, Docklands, was another sweet dining treat.

Afternoon activities included four wheel driving, kayaking, paddle boarding, a laneways tour, shopping and time to freshen up before the gala dinner.

And it was the dinner in the Regent Theatre’s Plaza Ballroom in the heart of the city that really showed Australia’s creativity and Merv Hughes’ “have a go” attitude.

Aside from the beautifully presented venue and the superb food prepared with the assistance of celebrity chef, Luke Mangan, it was Peter Jones Special Events (PJSE) that pulled out all the stops to present something different and quintessentially Australian.

In many other countries at a dinner like this delegates would have most probably been sitting down for the duration. Peter Jones’ strategy was to immerse them in the event as soon as the sheer curtains revealed the beautifully set tables.

How he and his team did this was very clever indeed. At the tabletop presentations the day prior all hosted buyers were encouraged to have their photograph taken at a studio adjacent to where the presentations were taking place. All that was there was a camera and a green screen.

Arriving at the gala dinner and finding their place names delegates were pleasantly surprised to see the photograph they had posed for was now framed and they were superimposed in front of a great Australian icon – Uluru, Sydney Harbour, the Opera House, and others. This was a keepsake they could take home with them.

Up on the big screen at the gala dinner these same images scrolled across in-between speeches and other formalities.

And the fun didn’t stop there. PJSE had country specific delegates come on stage as a group and do what appeared to be an impromptu performance with the help of professional entertainers.

The Korea group, for example, performed Gangnam Style with a Psy impersonator; a trio of English hosted buyers strapped on kilts and joined 24 real pipers from the City of Melbourne Pipe Band, playing ACDC’s Long Way To The Top; Chinese delegates clinked their glasses to the tune of Blue Danube and enjoyed a glass of Penfolds Grange Hermitage (they reportedly love red win); Indian delegates danced Bollywood style to Jai Ho; and representatives from Australia’s convention bureau frocked up in Priscilla-inspired outfits and performed Dancing Queen with entertainer 100% Kylie.

Peter Jones provides some of the thinking behind the event:

“From a theme perspective I was told what worked and what didn’t work at the Sydney [Dreamtime] event a few years ago. Firstly, we chose a venue that was uniquely Melbourne – not a hotel ballroom because they are very often so similar and quite boring – and not a marquee which are so weather dependent.

“Secondly, we decided there was not going to be any off-the-shelf corporate acts. That’s fine for you and I, but if you’re a delegate from China or somewhere else you don’t know who these [Australian] entertainers are.

“In my brief to Tourism Australia I said that this event has to be about the buyers. It has to be interactive and it has to be about them; it has to be something that they engage in rather than just sitting there and watching. That’s where I said I’ve got this idea which is kind of like Dreamtime meets The Voice meets X Factor. I called it Dreamtime’s Got Talent.

“It took a bit of selling; I went through the whole concept, and said the only way it’s going to work is if you get your international managers on side and for them to get their group in on it.”

Rehearsals took place the afternoon before the dinner, with recruited hosted buyers having a practice with the key paid entertainers.

As Peter Jones puts it: the key to the whole night was whether the Korean group – the first act – would get into it. And they did, which paved the way for the following delegate participants to up the ante and give it their all.

As mentioned, the evening concluded with representatives from Australian convention bureau, led by the Northern Territory Convention Bureau’s manager, Scott Lovett, doing their own rendition of Dancing Queen followed by a short performance from John Paul Young.

It was a fitting bookend to the event which opened with Australian bush poet Don McQueen and a performance of My Country by the Australian Youth Choir.

In between the entertainment, fine food and short presentations from major sponsors, including Virgin Australia, capped off what was undoubtedly one of the best Dreamtime final night gala dinners on record.

It was a fitting conclusion to the Melbourne component of Dreamtime 2013, and to this writer at least, went a long way to showing why there really is nothing like Australia for business events.