“I was an…impressionable young man who was looking to get into the hospitality and tourism industry. After completing my HSC, I moved to Sydney to study hospitality and tourism and moved myself to Sydney for the Sydney Olympics,” he says.
“I was really fortunate to secure an opportunity at a wonderful international hotel. It was a standalone property, situated right on Bondi Beach and it had a significant meeting and events department. We would host up to three to four weddings every weekend. We welcomed MTV and similar events for rooftop pool parties,” he adds, describing it as a true frontline role in events. When the hotel was acquired by Accor, Cole’s journey to his current role began.
Since then, he’s navigated his way through Accor-managed hotels in the Sydney area, all with significant meetings and event spaces, allowing him to be involved in a wide variety of events.
Now at the beachside Manly Pacific, he says the level of investment the hotel has made over the last 18 months sets it apart from other conference hotels.
“We’ve made updates to audio and visual and there’s been a complete refurbishment of the whole hotel – from our rooms to our rooftop pool to our lobby and lobby bar – really all-encompassing and making sure that that style and design is not missed on a conference area.” He says the interiors were designed by Coco Republic to bring coastal luxury into the meeting space.
The new-look social spaces have followed the trend of business travellers extending their stay for leisure or ‘bleisure’, a trend Cole says he sees quite a bit of as a beachside hotel, with guests extending their stay or booking a future holiday stay before check-out.
“Because of these incredible spaces we’ve created within the hotel, from our rooftop heated swimming pool to our infrared sauna, to the bars and restaurants at the hotel, you can come and meet and then stay and really be comfortable in all areas.”
In particular, he says having restaurant-quality dining for both overnight leisure guests and day delegates alike has never been more important and that planners have the expectation of a conference menu that’s reflective of what they’d get dining out.
“A creative kitchen brigade is so important,” he says. “Incorporating fresh and healthy options into the menu is absolutely important. There just isn’t room for quick fried meals and we’re really proud to be able to offer that level and, no question, we are seeing that that business groups are happy to pay for that experience.
“They come and experience the food and beverage offerings and the spaces here and want to return for future stays, spend time by the pool, dine at the additional restaurants, and drink further cocktails at our lobby bar, [called 55 North].
“That’s absolutely become apparent,” he says, attributing the quality of the food and beverage offering to executive chef Ryan Dawson.
“We have this absolute beach frontage. So all of our conference space has these incredible views right over Manly Beach; literally a 15m walk from the front right onto the beach promenade.” It’s this proximity to the beach and Sydney’s mild weather that makes it not just a summertime destination, he says, but popular even over the winter.
“Even through winter, you can be sitting in the conference rooms with the sun rising in the east, which is the direction of our conference spaces, creating an inviting atmosphere. It’s a really unique and inspiring setting for business groups.”
With a surge in planners seeking programs and activities that reconnect delegates with nature, Cole says they’ve been fortunate to work with local partners offering activities to do just that.
“It might be doing an Amazing Race-style challenge, paddleboarding and outdoor yoga, but the volume of people post-pandemic that are wanting to include that as part of their event has been huge and we’re just really fortunate to have such wonderful partners that are so professional in that area.”
He says the connection goes right down to being able to open the windows for fresh air and natural lighting in the event spaces.
“Even with event planners and then the business groups themselves that are meeting here, that need for natural light and having the ability to open a window if they can – it’s been huge for us, the number of questions we get around that,” he says.
From the usual long lead events to a boost in short lead business, the year ahead is strong for events, says Cole.
“We’re looking at a really strong 2024. What we’ve also noticed is this need for short-lead bookings and business. There has absolutely been an uptick in those needing turnaround shortly, which is hugely exciting as well.”