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Revamped and revitalised Sydney is vying for business events

Sydney, the capital of New South Wales is one of Australia’s largest cities and has revamped its venues. Jack Carter reports on the latest openings and investments.

Speaking at the International Association of Convention Centres conference, chairman of The Committee for Sydney Michael Rose AM stood in front of the audience at the newly opened £550 million ICC Sydney and had this to say about the role of a major venue on a modern city: “A convention centre is a reflection of how a city thinks about itself and how it develops its ambitions. It is both an invitation to the world and a key way for a city to participate in the global market for people and ideas.”

Last December marked ICC Sydney’s three-year anniversary, and if you’re assessing the city’s performance as a business events destination during that time, it’s impossible to ignore the impact the venue has had on the city. Indeed, the Darling Harbour venue’s revenue and visitor numbers have far exceeded expectations. In the 2018/19 financial year alone the venue welcomed more than 1.4 million delegates, generating £430 million in economic impact for the region – an increase of 17 per cent on the previous year.

A convention centre is a reflection of how a city thinks about itself

Much more than this though, it has become a catalyst for further investment in the surrounding area. A tired Darling Harbour precinct has been reinvigorated with bars, restaurants and residential developments, while £18.5 million in government money has seen the opening of a new hub designed to house Sydney’s flourishing start-up community. This has subsequently put an army of promising tech entrepreneurs on the convention centre’s doorstep, with many of their innovations integrated within the venue.

Meanwhile, major events like the Global Summit of Women, the World Congress of Accountants and Sibos 2018 have brought thought leaders from around the globe to the city, helping to boost its reputation as a forerunner for innovation and new ideas. This ambition to turn Sydney into a beacon for future thinking underpins Business Events Sydney’s strategy. The convention bureau celebrated its 50th birthday last year, having stewarded the city’s meetings and incentive business from when it was welcoming just 6,000 international delegates a year.

Fast forward to today and its aspirations are decidedly more ambitious. Attracting more major, lucrative conferences to the city are where its aspirations lie, positioning itself as the academic and business hub for Australia’s largest industries: science and engineering, financial services and health. As such, the bureau’s website enthuses about being home to 40 per cent of the top 100 most influential engineers in Australia and having some of the world’s leading quantum researchers working at its universities.

When it comes to incentives, however, the industry needs little convincing over Sydney’s credentials. Its abundant coastal venues, like the 250-capacity Sergeants Mess in Chowder Bay or the iconic Sydney Opera House, offer inspired settings for private dinners. Then there’s the harbour itself – a rich playground for nautical activities that include everything from yacht racing to kayak safaris. And not forgetting the natural escapes of Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains, or the quaint beach towns that populate the state’s enviable coastline.

Still, new products are coming on board. Experiences like WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo’s latest Australian wildlife tour, offering small groups the chance to go into the park’s restricted zones and get cuddly with some of the country’s most famous critters (along with a few of their scaly neighbours, too). Elsewhere, the Royal National Park, home to the famous Figure 8 Pools and only a 45 minutes’ drive south of the city, has recently completed a £2 million upgrade to its Great Southern Nature Walk – a rewarding rural trek for delegates keen to see another side of city’s coastal countryside.

It’s set to be an exciting time for the city’s hotel industry, too. Having been stagnant for the best part of two decades, approximately 4,600 rooms are due to be added before the end of 2022. Undoubtedly the most anticipated opening will be Marriott’s the W Sydney, located inside “The Ribbon” – a striking development minutes from the convention centre. Due to open later this year, it will offer 593 rooms at the heart of Darling Harbour.

The additional incoming 4,000 rooms, meanwhile, will be essential additions to Sydney’s infrastructure. With 1,520 major national and international events already in the convention centre’s calendar for the next ten years alone, it’s fair to say that Sydney has a busy decade ahead.

Case study

  • The client: Shell’s Retail Business
  • The venues: Luna Park, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, The Argyll, ICC Sydney
  • The Event: Smiling Stars 2019, 22-26 June
  • The participants: 1,170 attendees including sales force and retailers as well as Service Champions chosen from c. 45,000 Shell-branded retail sites across some 80 countries

When it came to delivering Shell’s retail business’s annual Smiling Stars event for another year, Imagination’s brief was clear: provide something unique, premium and extra-special to celebrate the success associated with the brand’s 1,170 delegates. As well as being an aspirational destination with world-class venues, spending time in Sydney would prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the guests.

The three-day incentive kicked off with a spectacular opening event held at Luna Park, the heritage-listed amusement park beneath the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, featuring live entertainment, food stations and free rides and games.

A business conference at the Sydney Opera House took place the following day, where the group was later treated to performances from the Jubilation Choir and Sydney Symphony Orchestra. That evening, guests split into two separate groups; the first of which was invited to a formal sit-down awards dinner at the Sydney Town Hall, while the rest headed to The Argyle, a dining and nightlife venue situated in one of Australia’s oldest buildings.

The final day was dedicated to enjoying the rest that the city had to offer. The list of activities included the Sydney Highlights Tour, the Harbour Bridge Climb, a trip to the Blue Mountains and a visit to Taronga Zoo. The event concluded with a celebratory gala dinner at ICC Sydney, which had been transformed into the Australian Outback to mirror the spirit of Australia.

Delivering an annual event programme of this magnitude comes with its own unique set of challenges as Lynne Norris, Imagination’s senior event director, explains: “A challenge we face with Smiling Stars is to secure hotels for the high number of delegates while sourcing incredible locations offering experiences not normally available to the public.”

Nonetheless, results for Smiling Stars 2019 showed the event to be a giant success. In the post-event survey, 97 per cent of attendees agreed that the experience had exceeded their expectations, while the awards dinner achieved a rating of 100 per cent. Shell also commended Imagination for ensuring delegates left fully committed to the brand having experienced something truly special.

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