Following a relatively strong 2013 for regional Victoria, Business Events Victoria (BEV)is working closely with the state government to ensure continued funding support for the ‘Regional Victoria Business Events Program’ beyond June 30. By Graeme Kemlo
Chris Porter, BEV executive officer says the Regional Victoria Business Events Program has not only resulted in new business opportunities for regional Victoria but has provided the opportunity to promote the region to a wider audience, making Victoria the business event state of Australia.
“Other states are seeing what Victoria is doing for their regional partners and beginning to place more emphasis on regional business events – we need to ensure we stay ahead of the pack,” Mr Porter said.
He said key regional operators were pleased with the number of bookings received in 2013. BEV had a 15 per cent increase in the number of leads referred to regional Victoria compared to 2012, equating to 27,783 delegate days and 15,041 delegate nights – “a potential value to the Victorian economy of $9.3 million, based on average nightly spend of $336 per person,” he said, adding that “early 2014 is looking relatively strong for venues in regional Victoria and the outlook is very positive”.
A grand view
At the southern entrance to Port Phillip Bay lies Vue Grand Queenscliffe, an aptly named 1881 hotel with unique accommodation in its turret and private rooftop function space where you can be master, or mistress, of all 360 degrees you survey.
It has 32 rooms of period-style accommodation, generous public spaces and five meeting rooms for 12 to 150 with a 19th century ambience and modern technology like free Wi-Fi. Vue Grand is also a foodie mecca, taking out regional and state-wide Golden Plate hospitality awards late last year for best contemporary restaurant and best chef.
For post meeting activities the Vue Grand has one of Australia’s most extensive offerings of craft beer. General manager, Connie Trathen, says a popular pre-dinner team-building exercise is the craft beer master class, where delegates sample some unique brews and learn a little more about the beer making process.
Business Events Geelong convention bureau manager, Terry Hickey has given meeting and event planners plenty of reasons to bring a group one hour out of Melbourne to the Geelong Otway region. He’s assembled a range of 2014 discount meeting offers from Cumberland Lorne Resort, The Pier Geelong, Mercure Geelong, 13th Beach Golf Links Barwon Heads, Vue Apartments & Day Spa Geelong, and Mantra Lorne Resort.
Don’t be fooled by the old familiar Travelodge architecture of Mercure Geelong, which belies its heritage once you step inside to find airy rooms and a surprisingly large function space that accommodates 400 delegates (theatre) or 330 (banquet). The meeting spaces can be divided into five separate rooms for smaller groups and with 138 accommodation rooms available. Residential conferences are well catered for.
The Pier Geelong is a versatile venue with a point of difference, being perched 250 metres out on a 160 year-old pier that once facilitated the export of the region’s famous wool bales. Now it is a purpose-built conference and events space. If you book the whole facility you can hold banquets for 800 or host 1300 for cocktails. There are also two large water view spaces, separated by an airlock for soundproofing: Hopetoun 350 (theatre), 260 (banquet), 700 (cocktail) and Lillias 250 (theatre), 180 (banquet), or 500 (cocktail). A private dining room for between 20 and 30 or the fine dining restaurant Baveras Brasserie, deliver on both the view and the gastronomic experience.
Four Points by Sheraton has a waterfront position on busy Corio Bay, with 109 rooms all with balconies and some with dress circle views over the promenade and the bay. Six meeting spaces with free Wi-Fi enjoy a dedicated events floor and fit from 40 to 230 (theatre). The largest space is 200 square metres and is perfect for 250 (cocktail), 230 (theatre) or 24 exhibition booths (2m x 1.6 m). And the workout brigade will appreciate the 24-hour fitness centre and steam room or a lap lane in the indoor heated saltwater pool.
For a stylish stay in Geelong, delegates will appreciate Vue Apartments at the edge of Eastern Beach. It does not have a dedicated meeting room but enjoys alliances with nearby conference facilities and at the end of the day there’s Vue Day Spa. Their experienced professional staff were able to massage the knots out of this writer’s back – I call it laptop keyboard syndrome, and it would definitely be worth driving from Melbourne to Geelong again to be restored to full productivity. Accommodation is contemporary four-and-a-half star with internet and business services there if you need them… they call it “relaxed business accommodation”.
You might remember the name Pettavel, which boasted an upmarket restaurant perched on a hill south of Geelong at Waurn Ponds… well that’s all changed now and The Hill Winery has become a more relaxed bistro style eatery/cellar door in the midst of the winemaking. And Peter Rowland Catering now manages the hospitality side of the business. There’s plenty of room indoors for business events and team-building such as a Pinot Masterclass, or outdoors where there’s acres of room for laser skirmish in the olive grove. The Hill has four meeting spaces, the smallest has a magnificent solid timber boardroom table and leather chairs for 18, while the largest space can banquet 250 or host cocktails for 350.
Yarra Valley Lodge, formerly Sebel Heritage, has been under the management of Austpac Hotels & Resorts for just over one year and has become a showcase for local Yarra Valley produce, throwing open its doors to local providores, wineries and breweries.
Less than an hour from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is considered to be the home of Victoria’s leading wineries, microbreweries, cellar doors, restaurants, artisan bakers, chocolatiers and other gourmet producers.
General manager Anthony LoGiusto is offering all new conference enquiries a complimentary dinner for two people in Bella Restaurant, featuring the best produce sourced directly from the Yarra Valley. Obviously, conditions apply.
Great Ocean Road
Victoria’s best known international attraction – The Great Ocean Road – plays a major role in business events, both as a journey and a destination. To travel this road, hugging the cliffs while the southern ocean rolls in down below is an unforgettable experience on the back of a Harley, or top down, wind-in-the-hair in a sports convertible, whether for international or local delegates. The journey can start at Torquay and run all the way west to Warrnambool. For those who want to meet on the iconic Road, Lorne is an experienced events destination with two large venues – Cumberland Lorne and Mantra Erskine Beach – a range of boutique properties, and some of Victoria’s best service providers.
Because Business Events Geelong represents more than 1000 businesses in the region, it is able to provide one point of contact and advise on events of all sizes and budgets. They help planners by handling requests for proposals, shortlisting suitable venues and suppliers, finding that unique location for a meeting, an off-site dinner or an inspirational team-building activity…they can even tell you where to take your delegates to see koalas in the wild, or kayak with dolphins and playful seals.
Ballarat Lodge, which has been undergoing a comprehensive refurbishment since October, offers one of the broadest meetings options in regional Victoria with 71 accommodation rooms, 23 meeting rooms of varying sizes, and configurations for 10 to 1000 (theatre).
In addition to the indoor space, the property has extensive gardens and sits opposite Sovereign Hill, which provides opportunities for themed events around the region’s rich gold history.
Beyond Amazing Race, executive cooking classes, or group painting exercises, you could be excused for being fresh out of ideas for the next team-building activity… to the rescue comes Iain Lygo with “Tuf Corporate Mudder” Regional Victoria. He says muddy obstacle courses are the latest fitness craze, with events like Tuf Mudder, Spartan Race, and Urban Challenge attracting thousands of participants.
Iain’s Adventure for Life group has toned down the event, which typically covers 20km or more, but he’s kept up the mud levels and the obstacles designed to foster cooperation rather than competition.
“Team mates have to help each other out of muddy creeks and ice baths. Stretcher-carries and tunnels require people to work together to achieve a common goal,” he says.
The event culminates at a 50 metre long mud pit and the rest is a secret between you and your laundry-person. Adventure for Life stages the event in the Ballarat region at Novotel Forest Resort Creswick. They’ll also get down and dirty at Balgownie Estate, Yarra Valley.
Arising phoenix-like out of the ashes of Black Saturday 2009, Horsham Golf Club has been rebuilt and now boasts a new $5.2 million clubhouse that includes conference and events space. Long regarded as one of regional Victoria’s best courses, fires razed the clubhouse, destroying all its memorabilia, pro shop, machinery sheds and 18,000 trees. Just five minutes from Horsham (310 km north-west of Melbourne), the club’s new function rooms overlook the golf course and cater for small meetings or large corporate events for up to 350.
A range of accommodation is available in Horsham, with the newest being the 52-room Buloke on Baillie, which offers a meeting room with free Wi-Fi and a business centre.
Bendigo’s new gold
Bendigo has struck more gold with the decision by the award-winning Asian Pacific hotel group to build its latest Art Series hotel in the city that was Australia’s highest producing goldfield in the 19th century.
Now renowned as a centre for the arts, hosting unique photographic and fashion exhibitions, it is probably no surprise that the company chose Bendigo (90 minutes north of Melbourne) for its next property, all named after iconic Australian artists: Cullen, Blackman, Olsen. What has been kept secret is the name of the artist who will grace the Bendigo property, but they are promising “more bold, dynamic colours from a Victorian artist”.
Expected to open in May the four-level property, adjacent to the new $630 million Bendigo Hospital redevelopment, will feature 128 studio rooms, each displaying original Australian artists’ works, with balcony and free Wi-Fi.
Having recently expanded its art gallery at a cost of $8 million, the city has transformed the infamous former medium security Bendigo Gaol in which three prisoners were executed in the late 1800s. It is now taking shape as the new $25 million, 1000 seat Ulumbarra Theatre – the name means ‘gather together’ in the local Dja Dja Wurrung language. The theatre, with a fully equipped fly tower, will suit music, dance and drama and is expected to host business events once it opens in early 2015.
Completing a $3 million refurbishment over the past 18 months, Choice Quality All Seasons Hotel Bendigo is the region’s largest combined accommodation, conference and event centre hosting meetings for 1100 and banqueting for 700. Post-refurb All Seasons Bendigo now has 77 modern hotel rooms with 400 on-site car spaces. The Fernery can seat up to 180 for a banquet, while the Conservatory’s sophisticated ambience suits pre-dinner drinks or gala dinners for 300.
Central Deborah Gold Mine offers visitors a unique and genuine experience, 61 metres under the city. The underground function room (15m x 6.5m) can accommodate 70 (theatre), 36 (classroom), 90 (cocktail) or 70 (banquet). There’s basic AV, furniture and decor included as part of the hire cost, but the team at Central Deborah can tailor a package, including catering… and, no, there’s no internet available down there!
New hotel infrastructure is few and far between, especially in the regions, but Albury is set to benefit from construction of a new Novotel – the city’s first internationally branded hotel since the 1970s.
The $30 million four-and-a-half star Novotel hotel will be located next to the $50 million Volt Lane development (a CBD precinct housing the Tax office, a 400+ car park and fresh food market). Novotel will be seven storeys, with 120 rooms and will cater for the business events market with four banquet and event spaces, a gym and corporate lounge.
Set to create more than 200 local construction jobs, the project has just started. It will employ 30 permanent staff when the hotel is fully operational in 2015.
The new hotel comes on the heels of Quest apartments opening across the river in Wodonga, and due to open in April 2014 is the $7 million Quest Albury on Townsend with 49 serviced apartments based in the old wool store. And by mid-2015, the multi-million dollar redevelopment of Albury Regional Art Centre, closed since July 2013, will return to the meetings sector an elegant and popular cultural event space.
Echuca – Moama
Dungula Function Centre, on the Murray bank across the river from Echuca, boasts the region’s largest function centre seating up to 840 guests. Peak conference months – outside of school holidays – it is ideal for conferences and can cater for up to 350 + delegates onsite with accommodation in more than 70 villas. Dungala also offers 3 x 8 berth (4 room) luxury houseboats that are moored at the property and can be used as VIP accommodation for conference groups, if available.
Perricoota Station is a unique events venue centred around a magnificent rural homestead (circa 1860), that has been fully renovated with accommodation for up to 24 people (nine bedrooms and three bathrooms) – ideal for small corporate brainstorming/ team-building retreats.
Mildura – the new river city
With work commenced on stage one of Mildura’s Riverfront Masterplan, the city’s business events sector is excited that stage two will include a conference centre for 500 to 1000 delegates. The meeting space has been listed as part of a range of riverbank precincts to be developed near the waterfront for low, medium and high density residential, commercial offices, and retail, plus a combination project that includes the conference centre, a visitor information and cultural centre and transport interchange. The masterplan will open up the existing 2.5km riverbank to the CBD, centred on the Mildura Wharf Waterfront featuring paddle steamers, riverboats, and urban activities around food, wine, art, produce and people.