After the success of the PS I Love You campaign, the venues of Port Stephens have joined the love-in to tell the east coast’s business events market why it will fall for the region too.
BY EDWINA STORIE
Port Stephens seems all loved up on the magic of its own destination and is ready to take to the MICE market with its serenade. The region is successfully attracting leisure business, but a new corporate events team made up of community members has a strategic plan to bring in the delegates to its sandy shores.
“As the destination marketer, I am very heartened when the industry gets together and says, ‘how can we make this happen,’ as opposed to me trying to get them on board,” the region’s destination marketer, Tarz Bylhouwer says.
Having seen the success of the ‘PS I love you’ commercial campaign, venues such as Shoal Bay Resort and Spa, Peppers Anchorage, All Seasons Salamader Shores, and Nelson Resort joined forces in true community style to figure out how it can showcase the extent of what it can offer for events.
They approached Tourism Port Stephens, creating a strategy and marketing plan with training and promotional events kicking off as little as two months later, in late June.
“Things really started to gain momentum and move in a hurry here in Port Stephens,” Mr Bylhouwer says.
MICE Port Stephens coordinator, Rebecca Lavis, from Shoal Bay Resort and Spa said the MICE sector is important to complement its stable but seasonal leisure market. “Port Stephens has long been a popular seaside destination for leisure travellers but we’ve formed MICE Port Stephens to attract more corporate visitors, especially outside the peak holiday periods,” Ms Lavis says.
The first step was educating the industry about Port Stephens and providing courses to ensure venues and MICE services are providing the exact style of service required.
“People usually think of Port Stephens as a leisure destination and that level of customer service may not be what the conference market is looking for,” Mr Bylhouwer says, explaining that the venues sought to customise the service to the very latest requirements of the conference client.
The next step was educating the potential clients. A series of upcoming promotional events that started in Sydney in late July focus on its capabilities as a business destination.
Mr Bylhouwer believes there are few if any areas in New South Wales that offer the same level of attractions in one place that Port Stephens does.
“There’s not much in Port Stephens that other areas don’t have, but there’s no other area that has everything in one place. There’s a perception that the region is leisure only and a lot of people are not aware of the conferencing capabilities.”
Included in the ‘everything’ is the largest marine park in New South Wales with a resident population of dolphins, the closest point to land the whales come during migration, horse and camel riding on the beach, parasailing, wineries, 32 kilometres of sand dunes with quad bikes and sand boarding, “and the only place in the state where you can handfeed sharks and rays at The Australian Shark & Ray Centre. Plus Newcastle airport is smack bang in the middle of Port Stephens,” Mr Bylhouwer adds.
The two elements Port Stephens needs to work against most is its distance from Sydney and the market’s unawareness of it. However, the coach journey is just on three hours from the city while a host of coaching services are working to decrease this time even more. The conference team also wants to highlight that there are attractions on the way up to the destination such as the reptile park on the Central Coast, plus there is a range of daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne.
“Sydney is a destination everyone can fly into, but Port Stephens is a beyond-city experience where you can escape the urban sprawl. And Sydney doesn’t have the types of diverse experiences we have.”
A devotee to his region, Mr Bylhouwer believes Port Stephens is a region corporates could not avoid falling for.
“Years ago people would never use the sand dunes. I would point out that they were our most under-utilised asset because inside everyone is a kid, and as adults, we’re still kids. Port Stephens [reflects this] because it brings out the kid in you. All the childhood memories and experiences you had growing up can be relived in Port Stephens as an adult. And Port Stephens has also grown up with you in the sense that it’s not just a playground, but a place to stay and now to do business as well.”
24 hours in Port Stephens
So you and the group have made the journey up here, (it didn’t take as long as you expected, did it?) Now is the time to explore.
Satisfy the winos, the beer drinkers and the fancy foodies all in one hit at Port Stephens Winery and Murray’s Brewery. Murray has united three culinary fundamentals – the grain and grape together, matched with fine food. Murray and co joined Port Stephens just a few years ago but have since taken the PS I Love You campaign to a whole new level, becoming devoted advocates. And Port Stephens loves them back for bringing new life into an old winery, using the produce of local farmers and providing a unique, homely and beautiful place to dine and enjoy a good drop or pale ale.
While there are many great venues in Port Stephens, Shoal Bay Resort and Spa was recently awarded a gold medal at the 2011 Australian Tourism Awards, being named the premier venue for meetings and business in the state for that year. The beachfront resort has a Whitesands Conference Centre along with a range of suites, apartments and villas, four restaurants and five bars. In celebration of the award, it is currently offering a package over August and September that takes 20 per cent off the full- and half-day delegate packages, along with discounts on accommodation, a dinner upgrade from two meals to three, and complimentary transfers for groups of up to 20.
Where to start? Get out and experience the environment that makes Port Stephens so multifaceted. If your group is calm and collected, take them to meet those 70 local dolphin residents out of Nelson Bay on a cruise, or from the shoreline of Fingal Bay and Anna Bay. Dolphin devotees could even kayak out to meet them close up. Newcastle Helicopters’ Heli-Humpback aerial whale-watching flights hover over Port Stephens to give sightseers a bird’s eye view of the hundreds of humpback whales on their annual northern migration.
For the wild at heart, head to the 32 kilometre playground of sand dunes at Stockton. What better way to enjoy the largest coastal moving sand mass in the southern hemisphere than with an eco-friendly quad bike? Explore the dunes that can reach up to 30 metres and visit the unique ‘Sygna’ site – the burial ground of the largest ship ever to be wrecked along the east coast of Australia and WWII defence lines. Sand Dune Adventures will get you strapped up with all the gear and ready to go.
Along with sand boarding on the dunes, you can also explore them on camels. So camels aren’t really a native animal, in fact, they’re a bit of a pest in middle Australia, but the ones over at Oakfield Ranch Camel Rides are incredibly friendly and look very exotic when walking across the shore at sunset – great for photographers and happy snaps of the team. If you’d prefer to be a little closer to ground, Sahara Trails Horse Riding can set you and your group up with Black Beauty and co for a leisurely trot along the sand.
are we there yet? what to do on the way
You’ve found this article so convincing that you and your colleagues are on a bus (hopefully with Port Stephens Coaches) and while the sightseeing is wonderful, you wouldn’t mind a stop along the way. You’re going to pass through the Central Coast, but rather than just pulling over for a bathroom stop, hook a left and check out the area to break up the seminar schedule.
Get the team to stretch their legs and have some fresh air amid the Australian bush at the Treetop Adventure Park. The eco fun takes the group 15 metres above the forest floor to test their bravery with rope bridges, flying foxes and other airborne activities. They’ll be pushing their own personal limits, learning to work with the limitations of others, and getting a good, healthy confidence boost from completing challenges.
Mecure Kooindah Waters
Now take off to a venue that is a destination in itself, Mecure Kooindah Waters, which is good for a few days’ stay or a stopover on the trip back. It’s also a great location for an incentive Christmas party where staff can enjoy golf and spa treatments to reward them for a hard year’s work. Seeing as we’re coming into those warmer months, you could host a casual picnic cinema experience while lazing on pool lounges, picnic blankets and the grass with some rosé.
The team at Kooindah are hosting new dinners that make guests feel like they’ve stepped into the steamy streets of Asia to a noodle market rich with the aromas of cooking spices. Teams can also enjoy sushi classes while sipping on sakes, or take up the swing and win canapé challenge that allows them to chip their way to win ingredients to create the pre-dinner canapés.