Eyes on new frontiers

The Gold Coast's industry stakeholders directed their focus during the pandemic to improve their offerings, promising even seasoned visitors an experience that will surprise

The Gold Coast is surfing on a new wave for business events, with a growing swell of new products and experiences it has been proud to reveal to event planners as Australia’s borders reopened.

“People who have been here before don’t know the Gold Coast of today because there’s been so much development with new or cool things to see and do,” said Destination Gold Coast’s head of business events, Selina Sinclair.

There have been many tourism developments happening in the Gold Coast (pictured) throughout the pandemic

“We spent A$1 billion (US$671.6 million) on new products and experiences for the city. There are new tour companies, bars, venues, restaurants and some 3,000 new hotel rooms constructed in the last two years. We’ve also seen a lot of investment by the theme parks.”

“With that, I feel we definitely stand out in the incentive travel space. But also when you look at the associations sector, the city has invested a lot in some major infrastructure developments,” she added.

For instance, the Gold Coast now boasts a new health and knowledge precinct, which brought 1,000 new researchers and more than 20,000 students to the city.

In addition to hospitals, the precinct includes Griffith University, ranked in the world’s top two per cent of universities, and Lumina, which is a 9.5-hectare site designated for start-ups and established businesses nurturing bright ideas and collaborations. Inventions to transform cardiology and spinal cord rehabilitation are among its current projects.

“Association sector events looking for a city where they can tap into speakers’ content, and developments in their field whether in education, health, or medical science technology can now find it on our doorstep,” said Sinclair.

“It’s really opened up our ability to host association events even more than before in the Gold Coast and it’s just one of the things that will only elevate the credentials of the Gold Coast to host associations and corporate meetings moving forward,” she continued.

Elevated experiences were certainly highlighted in June at This Is Gold Coast, the destination’s annual industry showcase. On one evening, event planners enjoyed a new sophisticated rooftop entertainment space in Cali Beach Club featuring an igloo bar, hot tubs, open fire pits, and a fire show.

The next day, they were transported by helicopter into the Gold Coast’s lesser-known asset — its hinterland, where they had lunch in a beautiful white-themed marquee at the top of the mountains at the Bower Estate.

It was also no coincidence that of the 80 guests, more than 30 per cent were international event planners from the Gold Coast’s top overseas markets of Singapore, Malaysia, the US, UK, New Zealand and Japan.

“International markets represent, in some ways, an untapped opportunity for us. What we’ve also seen (since borders reopened) is a huge influx of requests, particularly from the Asian markets, all looking for an incentive travel destination, with a high percentage coming from direct selling companies, and we are catering for that change,” said Sinclair.

“And now we’re starting to see the big associations coming back, saying their rotation is all mixed up and they’re looking for a destination, and they’re rebuilding for future years from 2023 and beyond,” she continued.

A performance during This Is Gold Coast, the destination’s annual industry showcase

Big events also see an advantage in the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC), where a complete buyout is possible. The centre is currently attracting international business representing up to 10 per cent of its bookings, compared to about two per cent just five years ago, thanks to its growing presence and work to secure events on the global stage.

“We’ve always been highly successful with our size, because big conventions like the fact that they can take total ownership of our venue,” said general manager of GCCEC, Adrienne Readings.

“They can brand externally and internally, which is important to both associations and corporates. The centre’s design also allows us to open and shut as small or as large as we need, so we’re a multipurpose centre, not just a convention and exhibition centre,” she said.

The Gold Coast Airport will also double its size when it unveils an expanded three-level 30,000m2 terminal in September, with links to New Zealand, Singapore, Korea, Japan and Malaysia “ready to go”.

With ambitious moves on multiple fronts meeting the tide of a post-pandemic reset, the trajectory for business events on the Gold Coast seems to be as clear as the blue-turquoise waters it is famous for.

Just to recap, in March, it launched its new brand as Australia’s imagination capital at AIME. In June, its annual showcase invited its “first insiders” to see the new developments since Covid.

And stage three is underway: “(We’ve started to work) much more on a digital strategy, using LinkedIn as our main channel to push out a lot of the content that we’ve collected, to get in front of people we know are busy. (Beyond September), we’ll look to offer fam trips again,” said Sinclair.