Election uncertainty, a flat economy, fewer delegates, shortening lead times… but rising to the challenge, Regional Victoria continues to field inquiries from event organisers looking for an alternative to big city meetings.

BY GRAEME KEMLO 

They have to bid harder, pitch more often and offer unique products, services and experiences, but Business Events Victoria chair, Brendan Maher, says that despite all this the level of inquiries suggests country Victoria is working.

Historic Ballarat flies the flag for regional meetings

Further cementing its position as the birthplace of Australian democracy, Ballarat unveiled its new $2 million Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) in May. The venue, which hosts a gallery specially built to house the iconic Flag of the Southern Cross, is a technology-rich interactive museum that also includes a 114-seat tiered auditorium, two education rooms for 25 and 55, on site caterer and 55-seat café, plus outdoor event space.
One of the first business events it hosted was for 100 delegates from the consulting arm of professional services firm Deloitte Australia, which was holding its national partner conference in regional Victoria.
Susan Steer, EA to the managing partner – consulting at Deloitte, said the firm usually conducted these residential conferences in regional locations about an hour from the CBD and this year it chose Novotel Forest Resort Creswick, 20 minutes from Ballarat.
“Because we were in the region, in the birthplace of Australian democracy, it was appropriate to go to MADE where we had an address in the auditorium on the theme of democracy and why we were there. We then let the delegates loose in the exhibition space. It was a great space to be in,” Ms Steer said.
MADE is also likely to be one of the must-see attractions for delegates from Rotary District 9520, which covers parts of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, when it holds its District Governor’s conference for about 500 in Ballarat in April 2015.
One of Ballarat’s most significant thoroughfares is Lydiard Street, which housed the riches of this goldmining town at the Mining Exchange in the 1850s. It is now an open space, sometimes used for trade shows, but the city has largely preserved the historic façade along the street, which features in the TV series, The Doctor Blake Mysteries. It is an excellent base for meetings and post-event dining.
The city’s best known hotel was its first – Craig’s Royal Hotel, which since 1853 has welcomed a global who’s who to Lydiard Street, including England’s Prince Albert and Prince George, operatic royalty Dame Nellie Melba, and noted American author Mark Twain. Craig’s managing director John Finning offers event organisers a choice of meeting venues from the 19th century grand dining room for 110 (banquet) to 180 (cocktail) , Prince’s room for 56 (banquet) to 80 (cocktails), the Reading room for up to 30 (banquet) as well as a bluestone cellar and a boardroom for 10. For residential events Craig’s has 41 elegant individual-styled rooms with ensuites.

Built shortly after Craig’s, the George Hotel, down the street has undergone recent rebuilding and refurbishment and now boasts a range of stylish accommodation rooms, an upstairs function room, and boardroom facing expansive verandahs. Three ground level meeting spaces suit 100, 40 and 15.
A food and wine development known as The Lane, which borrows from Melbourne’s popular laneway scene, are bustling with locals for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. And marketing manager, Leah Ferguson-Grieve, says there are already plans to expand the lane concept with the addition of two restaurants in an adjacent brick building down the lane.
Jacksons Hotel is the latest name to grace a newly redeveloped business events venue on Lydiard Street. Local hotelier, Brian Taylor, has spent more than $2 million sympathetically restoring the property, using some old panoramic photographs of the town to help with historical accuracy. Most noticeably Brian’s team has faithfully restored the 1890s balcony to the hotel that at various times has been the post office, then Jacksons Hotel, The Royal George, The Federal and the Railway hotels.
Serving modern Australian cuisine downstairs, which can double as a cocktail space for 100, there’s a separate entrance off the street to the meeting floor. Here 150-year-old bricks and beams are laid bare in the spacious Lawless Room, which suits 150 (theatre) or 400 (cocktail).
After almost two years, and with attention to detail that included replicating the original casts of wrought iron work, Jacksons now boasts the largest verandah in Ballarat, at 200 square metres – quite a vantage point to take in the magnificent streetscape. But there’s more… another floor, The Terrace, is an indoor/outdoor space for 80 (cocktail), served by a lift and overlooking the city to the hills beyond and perfect for a post-event chill-out.

Spend a medieval knight

Resurrected from another era, a medieval moment in time, Kryal Castle was a popular theme park 8km east of Ballarat in the 1970s – think: drawbridge, moat, dragons, knights, chainmail, jousting and public whippings. After a period of closure and multiple millions invested, it has been reinvigorated by new owners, Castle Tourism and Entertainment. The NEW Kryal Castle offers the business events industry a ready-themed venue for conferences, team-building, product launches, filming and special events.
A range of separate meeting spaces means concurrent events are possible for groups from 30 to 300, to a 1500-seat banquet on the main arena and up to 5000 for a total site buyout. A popular meeting space is the chapel, which is naturally-lit, centrally heated and offers tiered seating for up to 120, with on site A/V.
There are 17 self-rated four-star modern accommodation suites within the 10 hectare castle grounds which have been renovated. A complete venue buyout could see up to 5000 in a marquee on the main jousting arena, according to functions and events manager, Mike Middleton.

Peninsula gets a bureau

They’re describing themselves as “Victoria’s newest business events destination”, but Mornington Peninsula, Melbourne’s bayside playground has seen its fair share of delegates as far back as 1803 when it was the site of Victoria’s first settlement.
In truth, “the Peninsula” as she is known to locals, has just established a dedicated Mornington Peninsula Conference Bureau (MPCB), published a planners’ guide, and used AIME to launch a formal marketing strategy to stake its claim as a meetings destination, rather than the leisure playground it has been perceived as.

With the successful Business Events Geelong as a model, MPCB has gathered members from some of the best venues and service providers on the peninsula, including hotels, golf resorts, and wineries. For large events there’s Frankston Arts Centre with multiple spaces for up to 1000 (cocktail) or 600 (theatre), or a small executive team might find Hummingbird Eco Retreat’s minimal environmental footprint is as attractive as its 72 acre bushland setting – it has 15 individually themed guest rooms, and two meeting spaces for 24 to 50.
Golf is a popular pastime on the peninsula and MPCB members offering stay and play include RACV Cape Schanck Resort, The Peninsula Country Golf Club, Mornington Golf Club, Rosebud Country Club, Sandhurst Club and Peppers Moonah Links. Other popular activities range from fishing trips, indoor rock climbing, a barbecue at the historic Cape Schanck lighthouse overlooking rugged Bass Strait, while a post-conference soak in the hot thermal mineral waters at the popular Peninsula Hot Springs should appeal to groups of up to 120.

Mildura revs up

Julie Jewell, business event facilitator with Mildura Rural City Council lovingly refers to the fact that Mildura has a lot of “rev heads”, and she’s making the most of the local automobile culture, drawing a series of business events centred around cars or bikes to the city.
Having successfully staged the huge motorcycle club (Ulysses) national meeting last year, among the new business event bids she’s won for Mildura are four similar gatherings. Julie says each will bring up to 300+ enthusiasts/delegates. This year Mildura hosted the Datsun Sports Roadster nationals, then next March the Harley Owners Group (HOGS), the Van Nationals at Easter for panel van fanciers, and the HD & HR Holden Clubs in June.
Not that you have to blow exhaust to meet in Mildura (but they did recently host a major political party conference): later this year it will host up to 400 delegates to the Australian Table Grape Association meeting, with some delegates flying in from around the world.
Mildura is the gateway to the World Heritage listed Mungo National Park, site of Mungo Man, the world’s oldest human cremation and human footprints dating back to the last ice age. This is of particular interest to scientists, who will hold a scientific meeting of the Australian Quarternary Association in Mildura next September, expected to bring more than 200 local and international delegates.

Albury pushes ahead

Despite not receiving NSW government funding to match Commonwealth money for the redevelopment of the heritage listed Albury Art Gallery, Albury City Council is pushing ahead to raise the final $1 million towards its $10.5 million cost. The Gallery, which has been used for events, will have tripled the usable gallery floor space when it reopens in July 2015.
AlburyCity Council has predicted it will generate an extra 30,000 visitors to Albury and “inject an extra $3.8m in tourism spend across the region boosting the local economy by $6.1m each year,” according to AlburyCity Mayor, Cr Alice Glachan.

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