Darwin’s business events industry is capitalising on the new mining and energy boom, staging meetings ,technical tours and famils around the burgeoning mining oil and gas sector, as Graeme Kemlo discovered.

BY GRAEME KEMLO

While opinion may be divided over whether Western Australia’s mining boom has peaked, Australia’s Top End is ready to step up with multi-billion dollar oil, gas and minerals projects making NT a new economic driver for the Australian economy.
A staggering array of projects are underway now in NT – the $34 billion Ichthys LNG development, described as “ one of the biggest oil and gas projects in Australia’s history”; the $5.4 billion Darwin Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project connected to a 502 km pipeline from Timor Sea gas fields with trillions of cubic feet of known reserves; the $55 million Darwin Industry Fuel Terminal; a $50 million Helium Plant, which exports to South-East Asia; plus a $110 million Marine Supply Base at East Arm Wharf.
We visit the Marine Supply Base – an 8.5 hectare logistics hub that will attract rig tender vessels to Darwin and service up to 1000 vessels a year with a 12 hour turnaround. The base, due by the end of 2013, has three marine berths, supplies water, fuel, chemical and drilling mud connections, manages waste, offers warehousing, office space and associated facilities. Although security on to the base is tight, this is one of the technical tours Darwin hopes will demonstrate the Territory’s ‘can do’ approach to the meetings industry. While more difficult to organise, site inspections of more remote mining operations are also part of the business events offer.

We enjoy a luncheon cruise on the Arafura Sea aboard a 20 metre schooner, Tumlaren, from which we gain a good view of the port development and the scale of the Ichthys project.
We’re given a formal briefing on mining, oil and gas, including maps of NT exploration leases 10 years ago and today. We’re told the Territory is “under explored”. A decade ago the map was sparsely populated with minerals claims, but today it looks like a multi-colour quilt. Similarly, offshore oil and gas maps show new activity fanning out hundreds of kilometres north and more than a thousand kilometres from west to east.
Scott Lovett, director of business events for Tourism NT says his division is experiencing double digit growth.
“Our mantra is to grow the business events industry, to change the way we do business, and our key drivers are mining, oil and gas. We have done research into those markets and we are actually targeting events within those sectors. There’s a business case for them to be here because the future is pointing north for trade and investment in the sector,” he said.
Darwin expects its resources boom to build local businesses and attract new investment. And there’s already evidence of young graduates and tradies moving into Darwin to work: city apartment rents are rising.
Not that this city is abandoning its traditional business model; it has always been an attractive destination for meetings and incentives with that extra wow factor that comes with iconic landscapes, the indigenous peoples, rivers and coastlines, the tropical climate and proximity to Asia. Where else can you wine and dine with a five or six metre crocodile hanging in mid-water beside you? Or enter the ‘cage of death’ to look a croc straight in the eye… the answer is Crocosaurus Cove, a downtown venue for up to 1000 (cocktails) or 260 (banquet).
At Mindil Beach SkyCity recently upgraded its five-star resort to include 32 lagoon villas and VIP super villas. Conference and event options include the lawns which can host 5000 (banquet) and grand ballroom for 340 (banquet) or 450 (theatre).
Darwin Convention Centre offers a 1500 seat plenary and 4000 sqm of exhibition space and just hosted the annual MEA conference. It is in the Waterfront precinct, 100 metres from two hotels: Vibe with 120 rooms, four conference spaces for up to 100, and views of the waterfront; and Medina Grand Darwin Waterfront, an apartment hotel with 120 rooms. They overlook a huge swimming lagoon plus wave pool.
The area is ringed by popular restaurants and bars. Local identity Darren Lynch hosts us to breakfast at his Il Lido Italian restaurant and Tapas bar- a dress circle location with three dining options for up to 350. Since our visit Darren has established The Precinct, industrial-style steel, concrete and wood décor bars beneath Vibe hotel. m