March 29 2021

By Graeme Kemlo

It has been a less than sunny summer in Melbourne but last week the rain held off long enough to welcome the Sunshine Coast crew to one of the city’s best eateries.  They came to remind us that “winter is traditionally your time on the Sunshine Coast”.

Not many COVID-locked Melburnians would disagree, and they did get the attention of most of city’s top travel writers – 23 of them to be precise. That, and the offer of good food and wine, the chance to mingle again and perhaps a couple of tickets and an accommodation prize draw also helped. To be transparent – your correspondent did not win but the hospitality and the company of fellow scribes was like a tonic to the writer less-travelled.

There is good news to report. Sunshine Coast has been far from idle lately. Despite a reputation as a winter playground for southern leisure visitors, this region (from Caloundra in the south to the Great Sandy National Park in the north, plus dozens of interesting hinterland villages) is intent on making a further push into the business tourism market.

Maroochydore is the regional hub and this week its airport is scheduled to host 22 flights a day from all major domestic airlines, plus some lesser known and corporate charters. In 2016 it was designated Australia’s newest international airport, hosting direct Air New Zealand flights (obviously pre-COVID).  Last year a new wider, longer runway was completed in anticipation of further international traffic growth.

Sunshine Coast is Australia’s tenth largest urban area and Maroochydore has quietly been developing business infrastructure to support business tourism as part of a diversification away from a mostly leisure tourism economy.

A proposed Sunshine Coast Entertainment, Convention and Exhibition Centre will be located within a 53 hectare city “priority development area” designed to service one million people.

Maroochydore Council described the convention centre as “a business events drawcard…a large and flexible events facility, catering for national and international conventions, tradeshows, exhibitions and entertainment”.  A light rail project is also planned for the city which is 15 minutes from the airport.

Maroochydore is ripe for development and has been described as “the only greenfield CBD site in Australia”.  Already the first sod has been turned on a major new 4.5-star hotel in the CBD – a nine-storey Holiday Inn Express with 181 rooms, restaurant, bar, conference facilities and a rooftop swimming pool. It is scheduled to open in May 2022.

Apart from new infrastructure to attract the association market, the region is also focused on luring the incentive market to some of the unique accommodation and experiences available for smaller corporate groups looking to reward or inspire top achievers.