Events aren’t dead yet as Brad Foster discovered in February and March when he attended three very different gatherings held for three very different reasons.

Good event planners are risk takers. And the people who hire them and invest in the culture of an event should be congratulated for doing things differently.

I attended three stand-out events during February and March that were each created for completely different purposes. These were:
The 25th anniversary of the Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru
The InterContinental Hotels Group Annual AIME Dinner in Melbourne
You’ve gotta be joking – Tourism New Zealand Showcase (Adelaide and Melbourne)
So let me tell you what they were about and why I liked them so much…

EVENT: 25th anniversary of the Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru

@: In the dunes with views to Uluru
PAX: Around 100

Every night around 300 visitors to Ayers Rock Resort take a seat at the Sounds of Silence dinner. They’ve been doing so for the past 25 years.

Having anything last for 25 years in this “disrupted” world is no mean feat. The Sounds of Silence has stood the test of time, continuing to be one of the most popular night-time experiences for visitors to Uluru.

Recognising this, the team at Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia flew in journalists from near and far as well as a few special VIPs for a special sit-down Sounds of Silence dinner to celebrate its 25 years of operation.

Unlike the normal Sounds of Silence buffet style service, this one was all a la carte. The food was superb, the entertainment non-invasive, and the star-gazing talk under a sky full of stars highly enjoyable.

A real treat was the service staff who appeared genuinely happy to be there.

This event was held on the first night of a three-day program that gave attendees a real taste of why this place is so magical. Bruce Munro’s light installation is spectacular and is something I would highly recommend to conference groups. The good news is that the season has now been extended so there’s still time to catch it.

With so many travel journalists and Instagrammers attending there are sure to be plenty of stories and imagery of Uluru and the Sounds of Silence dinner. One Chinese Instagrammer who was there has 35 million followers. Yikes!

So why was it a risky event? First up, journalists, especially travel journalists can be fickle folk. They get a lot of invitations to a lot of things. It wouldn’t have been a great 25th anniversary if nobody showed up.

To stop that from potentially happening, Voyages sent out invitations in late 2017 announcing what they were doing and hoping that the journos put the dates in their diaries before they got filled up.

Reminders were also sent.

It was also risky because not a lot changed from the standard Sounds of Silence dinners that are held every night of the week. There was a quick cake cutting ceremony and service was a la carte rather than buffet-style.

And that was all that was really needed. What more do you want when you’re sipping champagne on a sand dune as the sun sets over Uluru and then meander down to your table to be waited on hand and foot?

The event worked because of its location and its simplicity.

Certainly the organisers could’ve paid an astronomical fee for a recognised entertainer to sing on the night but it really wasn’t necessary.

Sometimes events without all the bells and whistles is all you need.

EVENT: IHG Annual AIME Dinner

@: Vue de monde restaurant
PAX: Around 100

What do you do when you want to attract your top clients and prospects to an event on an evening where there are multiple industry events happening?

IHG’s concept was to book out one of Melbourne’s best restaurants and send out the invitations early.

Vue de monde in Rialto Tower appeared to do the trick with the event probably oversubscribed. What’s more, there didn’t seem to be a spare seat in the house (something that’s a pretty rare thing in the business events and tourism industries courtesy of the “no shows”).

IHG let the venue, its food, and the head chef do the hard yards for it. In-between courses, chef Shannon Bennett took guests on a culinary journey through a simple Q&A format with two IHG staffers.

He spoke about his food, his philosophy about food, and his passion for sustainability and food. The foodies in the room – and there seemed to be plenty – were rapt with his informality and genuine honesty. What hotel group wouldn’t want to link itself to such a legend?

So why was it risky? As mentioned, IHG was competing with other industry events being held on the same night. Booking out Vue de monde (or a large part of it) wouldn’t be cheap. It was, however, a drawcard, and in this instance it worked.

What also worked was that there were no speeches about how wonderful IHG was, except for a small welcome downstairs prior to guests sitting down to dinner.
And no speeches were needed. Attendees were pretty quickly thinking IHG rocked.

The other risk was that there was no professional MC. Maybe IHG had busted its budget and couldn’t afford one, but it wasn’t necessary anyway. A few simple questions to Shannon and he was off. He was engaging and interesting and fit perfectly with the audience demographic.

IHG topped off the night by presenting all attendees with a cool-looking black box that contained a special card announcing they were the recipient of 30,000 IHG Business Rewards.
No doubt, they’ll all be looking for the IHG invitation for next year’s event and are hopefully booking a few events into IHG properties in the interim.

EVENT: You’ve gotta be joking – Tourism New Zealand Showcase

@: Showtime Event Centre, Melbourne
PAX: Around 100 PCOs and association executives

This was, in this journalist’s humble opinion, the riskiest event of all three. In its recent research of the Australian business events market, Tourism New Zealand found there were some barriers and misconceptions about holding events in New Zealand.

To change those misconceptions, Tourism New Zealand created (with the assistance of an Auckland-based company), an event they called “You’ve got to be joking” that played out like a late night talk show.

“Guests” were invited to be a part of the “live” audience.

The room was suitably themed with a limited number of chairs, on-stage lounges for some “special guests”, and a great colour wash that added to the different set-up and style of event.

Well-known New Zealand comedian, Jeremy Corbett, was the MC and all ‘round show host. Early on he gave the audience examples of misconceptions in a UK Graham Norton-style presentation.

There was plenty of audience participation and it was great to see the invited guests get into the spirit of the night. Maybe the chance of winning the major prize – a trip for two to NZ – had something to do with that.

Creating something like this was risky. But in saying that, those working in the business events and travel sectors really do expect our kiwi cousins to be risk-takers. You only have to hop on an Air New Zealand plane and watch their safety videos to see them in action.

And who wants to wander around a room with a fake passport that you get stamped at each tabletop presentation you stop at with the hope of a prize at the end? Those events have been done to death and should be put out to pasture forever!

I attended the Melbourne event and was glad to see that the rustic Showtime Events Centre had been chosen as the venue. It definitely added to the mood.

I was, however, a little embarrassed – even though I’m from Sydney – on seeing the number of left over badges at the end of the night from the “no shows”. As I have said many times before, what’s wrong with some people? You’re in events, you know how much work goes into them, and you still don’t show up when you’ve said you would?

And more than that… how can you get ideas for your own events if you don’t see what other people are doing?

So did it work? Of course it did. It was risky and different and everything that an event should be.

Will it result in more Australian PCOs and association executives taking their business over to New Zealand in the future? Well it wouldn’t have hurt any and, in such a competitive industry, you can’t ask for much more than that.

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