Q&A: When is the Accor Great Race not a race?

When one whole team gets pinched for jay-walking in the CBD by Victoria Police.

It started innocently enough on a cold wintry Melbourne Friday in June. The annual event, now in its third year would see 11 industry teams vie for the coveted trophy by completing a series of exercises across Melbourne.
Two years earlier I had heard the Accor organiser, Gil Wong plead that this was not a “race”. But there’s obviously something about the name of the event, which we will now refer to as AGR, that got contestant’s engines revving, even though they now wielded Myki cards and were on foot, or tram, or train… anything but a taxi.
This year, under the professional gaze of corporate team-builders, BeChallenged, race steward Kingsley Seale implored the Generations X, Y and maybe the odd Z, not to speed. To no avail.

But it was time for action after Her Majesty’s coppers nabbed the red team from ASN Events for jaywalking in broad daylight. They took down all members’ particulars suggesting a bluey might arrive in the mail. In future, Kingsley promised, all “race” participants would incur time penalties for “racing”.
In truth, it was all a lot of fun and the small transgression by those in the red shirts – isn’t it true that insurance companies charge larger premiums for those with red cars because they tend to drive faster – almost afforded the reds bushranger hero status, but did not allow this modern day Ned Kelly gang to make off with the gold. The “gold” was something clearly in the steely gaze of the black team, FCm Travel Solutions, who, it should be noted, probably started this whole sprinting caper in an earnest attempt to defend the title they won last year.
AGR has become an in-demand industry annual, as evidenced by the rainbow of coloured t-shirts assembled at The Como Melbourne – Organisers Accor in safety orange; ANZ light pink; Voyager Travel dark orange; The Australian Psychological Society maroon; CGU, CC Conference & Corporate Events plus Lion in charcoal; Jemena in daisy; more ANZ in orchid; Cotton On in forest green; and Ultimate Conferences in light blue. Each team had an Accor member with them but they too started out clueless and got no special treatment.

With a hearty breakfast on board, teams could only depart once a domino task had been completed and it was black and red first out the door, clue in hand, to find the next location. This was every game player’s nightmare… a mobile, fully immersive, multi-dimensional (minus the 3D or Google glasses) game of snakes and ladders where you could be advanced or delayed in meeting challenges across the Melbourne metropolis. In the end the fastest, not the neatest correct entry would win.

Your correspondent, courtesy of Accor regional director of sales, Gabi Vincent, and the corporate cabcharge snuck away by taxi to lie in wait for the first arrivals a few kilometres away at Gosch’s Paddock, a training facility for teams from the AFL, that round ball football code and rugby league. After a goal-kicking lesson from Melbourne Storm players, the first team to score sufficient team goals got to leave first. In strict order the teams departed, totally forgetting about the languishing royal blue team whose secret envelope offered them a helicopter ride for five to Accor’s newest property, Mercure Portsea Resort and Golf Course, a 25-room hotel with panoramic views of Port Phillip Bay. Another taxi and we watched this all-girl team, who happened to be from the Melbourne Convention Bureau, arrive at the chopper pad opposite Melbourne Convention Centre – they were given the task of creating a short unedited video about the new property. They were so excited they hugged the charcoal chopper then got in and made a truly cinematic departure for points south.

How the girls managed to get hotel GM, Duncan Mars, into bed on camera with one of the team is probably testimony to their selling ability (and his great sense of humour). But it did get huge applause when played at the dinner that night, at which point the rest of the teams realised one team went AWOL and had dined and wined (fine seafood and bubbly), while they slogged the footpaths and public transport hubs of Melbourne to then be rewarded with a sandwich.
It was not all bad news though as teams did get to sample St Kilda’s famous eat street, Acland Street, whose European cake shops rate highly, alongside ice cream, coffee and buskers.
On a sugar high, the teams strolled to their overnight accommodation, courtesy of Novotel St Kilda general manager, Llewellyn Wyeth. They watched the sun go down on Port Philip Bay then enjoyed a thoroughly special dinner at Novotel‘s Grill 3182 restaurant themed to party.

Llewellyn had involved the local community, presenting an excellent singer guitarist, a local street performer, as our entertainment, and a graffiti artist had been invited to paint two iconic scenes (on canvas not the walls) for a silent auction.
Back in the kitchen, executive chef, Lorin Jacobs, demonstrated the Accor French flair with some memorable entrees – we particularly liked oysters topped with coriander granita and pan fried scallops with ginger oil. Hearty mains of chicken and beef were followed by a selection of miniature desserts served tapas style.
Based on the day’s challenges, team rankings were announced with black leading red, but taking into account a secret agent challenge, a task to accumulate Facebook Likes, the places shifted with purple and light blue equal, ahead of black, dark orange and red.
One of the tasks was to get a photo with a celebrity… poor Gary Ablett, superstar captain of the Gold Coast Suns, in town for their AFL game and having a quiet relax at the team hotel, got snapped by almost every girl, but stayed cool. He was certainly cooler than a few AGR partygoers who kicked on after dinner, forgetting an early start and another half day’s “non-racing” to come. Having to swallow two raw eggs, then chew two cloves of garlic followed by a teaspoon of cinnamon powder at Novotel Melbourne Treasury Gardens would prove to be their culinary come-uppance.

Melbourne’s Fed Square was the venue for a flash mob dance sequence that teams had to learn overnight from a YouTube video then perform before an unsuspecting public, some of whom eagerly joined in. Up front the bankers in pink danced like… well, like P!nk, clearly a step ahead of the competition.
Warned again about racing by Kingsley, the competition between the top teams was clearly evident with attempts by red and black to psych each other out, threats to pull travel accounts, and the odd protest – dismissed by the stewards. Fortunately, in racing parlance, there were no gambling plunges, no undue use of the whip, none fell at the hurdle or had to be put down… good humour prevailed as the field of fillies and a few colts again hit the streets.
Meanwhile, your correspondent hit the taxi rank to ensure a front row position for Saturday’s lunchtime photo finish under the porte-cochère back at The Como.
In case you’re wondering about the winners, there was a late surge by charcoal, but they were pipped at the post by their darker cousins – black, who went back-to-back to add to their trophy cabinet at FCm. They also pocketed a medal for each member, plus a stay at Mercure Portsea Resort. For the rest, there’s always the Accor Great Ramble 2014.