Don’t underestimate the appeal of Australia’s Whitsunday coast and islands for your conference delegates. Or the value-for-money options, as Brad Foster discovered recently.
BY BRAD FOSTER
There are some planners who think that the Whitsundays is all about five-star luxury and over-the-top prices for add-on tours and experiences. Some say that you can travel to islands in Asia for comparable rates and receive better… well everything.
I was therefore surprised on a recent educational to the region courtesy of Whitsundays Business Events (a division of Tourism Whitsundays) that this is one destination that simply isn’t all about high priced venues and expensive options.
Certainly the opportunities to spend up big are available. A night at Hamilton Island’s incredible qualia resort won’t leave you with a lot of change from $1000, but then it’s not supposed to. This is high-end luxury at its finest with the service, sophistication and style to match. Same can be said about Hayman, although it offers different price points for guests – from the very pricey waterfront studios to rooms that are better suited to the medium-level budget overlooking its main swimming pool.
But as our group of professional conference organisers discovered during the four-day tour, there are more offerings that won’t break the bank in the Whitsundays than perhaps many people believe.
Daydream Island Resort & Spa is a real surprise packet. It’s four-star, a little bit quirky, has some wonderfully appealing conference rooms, great outdoor spaces for groups, and would certainly suit the association sector or those corporates who want to show their delegates a good time while keeping an eye on the bottom line.
After touring and staying at Hayman and then Hamilton Island, Daydream Island Resort & Spa was a welcome relief to one PCO who said her key client didn’t have the budget for higher-end product. Daydream, she said, was a perfect compromise, ensuring that delegates still had a Whitsundays experience but without the high price tag.
The options on the mainland are also refreshingly suited to the mid-level market. The Coral Sea Resort, which some of the group visited, offers a range of accommodation options plus conference facilities for up to 200, and Peppers Airlie Beach (where the group stayed), is also an option for a cheaper Whitsundays experience. One, two and three-bedroom apartments mean delegates can share rooms, thereby cutting down on costs considerably.
Activities too don’t have to be high-end. Certainly if you have the money and you’re running an incentive-style experience then you’ll definitely find a way to spend it. Why travel by boat for a reef snorkelling or diving experience when you can take a chopper. Or better still, a sea plane, as our group did while visiting the stunning Whitehaven Beach.
Put simply, a boat trip still gets you to the reef in around an hour, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, particularly with the discounts you can get for the groups market.
Our group who travelled to Airlie Beach on the mainland got to experience a tour with Ocean Rafting (www.oceanrafting.com.au) which offers a range of affordable tours throughout the Whitsundays. Some less than favourable weather saw them travel to South Molle Island for morning tea before returning to Airlie Beach for yet another sumptuous lunch.
Many island resorts, like Hayman, Hamilton and Daydream, also offer plenty of free water-based activities – catamarans, kayaks, and those relatively new paddle boards are all available, weather permitting. Grabbing a towel and hitting the beach for a swim is also a pretty cheap option. In fact, if you don’t buy too many drinks at the numerous bars that hug the sand on most islands, it won’t cost you a cent.
Food, glorious food
Another surprise to me was the quality of the food throughout the trip. From the readymade lunch packs for the boat ride from Hamilton Island to Hayman, complete with champagne, to the many exceptional dinners – one on Hayman in a stunning rainforest alcove, a beautiful sit-down experience in Hamilton’s architecturally inspiring Yacht Club, and yet another metres from the water in Lover’s Cove on Daydream – this is one destination where the chefs really do add value to what is already a great place for the business event sector.
Participants were impressed with the experience, with Limax Events’ Lisa Moloney comment the educational extremely valuable.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to see so much product in a short space of time. There is nothing more important when recommending destinations to clients than having experienced it yourself. It’s such a gorgeous destination and I look forward to recommending the Whitsundays to my clients and working with you all very soon,” she said.
Senior coordinator of conferences & professional developments events at The Australian Psychological Society, Lucy Krelle, said from an event coordinator’s point of view, the famil was “beautifully organised and certainly showcased the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach as a terrific destinations for future APS conferences and certainly one I will be recommending in the future to clients”.
“The opportunity to expand my networks with my industry peers [was] also invaluable,” she said.