Look to the North

The Northern Territory is working to woo back international business and pick up the momentum it was building before the pandemic hit.

Albeit different from its bright city light cousins, the Northern Territory (NT) hopes to lure corporate explorers back by combining the pristine and the ancient, providing a completely different Australian encounter to Sydney, Melbourne or the Gold Coast.

Jim Jim Falls is located within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. By Tourism NT/@helloemilie

A key selling point is the state’s naturally adventurous side, which makes perfect sense when it offers a roam through Australia’s largest national park, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kakadu covering nearly 20,000km2 and is home to ancient rock art, unique flora and fauna and a rich cultural heritage that traces back more than 65,000 years.

And that is just a hint of what is available, with more products appearing in the pipeline to enhance the NT experience.

“Small group incentive options are found NT-wide with high-end lodges, corporate retreats and glamping experiences offering access to unique wilderness environments and nature-based experiences in the Darwin region and nearby Kakadu National Park, as well as in central Australia including Uluru,” said Rebecca McCaig, director of NT Business Events.

“New accommodation offerings among these include the 10 premium eco-tents – The Drovers Dream – at Kings Creek Station, west of Alice Springs, and six luxe suites at Finniss River Lodge, located on a working cattle property approximately 90 minutes from Darwin,” she continued.

Spared most of Australia’s long shutdowns, business events in the NT navigated different border restrictions, and kept operating during much of the pandemic.

Even when only virtual events were feasible, McCaig said the NT Business events team engaged event planners with indigenous Dot-Painting workshops, where art materials were shipped to planners prior to connecting an Aboriginal artist with the group online.

Another group enjoyed a virtual yoga session with yoga mats sent in advance to planners, with the sights and sounds of Uluru forming a calming and peaceful backdrop.

“Planners tell us the NT has strong appeal for international incentives, especially for well-travelled groups who have ‘done’ so many of the more traditional global destinations,” said McCaig.

“There’s a genuine connection between people and place in the NT, and the opportunity to engage in unique and meaningful activities which are just not available elsewhere in the world,” she continued.

Fortunately, delegates do not have to travel the expansive breadth of NT to experience some of its best.

Darwin Convention Centre’s outdoor gala dinner

With a firm goal to play bat on the international events stage and a keen eye on the north in Asia to grow its economic future, there has been plenty of work in recent years to meet and exceed the expectations of event planners right within the city centre.

For instance, the Darwin Convention Centre (DCC) revisited its F&B menu to offer its signature, multi-sensory and award-winning Seven Seasons culinary journey, inspired by the Larrakia people who are the traditional owners of the Darwin region.

Under the guidance of DCC’s general manager, Peter Savoff, DCC was announced the best business event venue at the Australian Tourism Awards for 2021.

Savoff highlights that one of the unique propositions DCC is able to offer planners is a “guarantee” of a gala dinner outside under the open night sky.

“Most convention centres would do most of their F&B catering within the walls of the centre. But because we have such perfect weather during our high season, which is also our dry season, it’s no trouble for us to (offer that experience for up to) 750 people under the stars,” he elaborated.

Appreciating the uncertainty of the current times, Savoff also recognised that flexibility would be high on the priority list for many event planners.

“Large business events are an expensive business, so we need to make organisers feel they are not risking everything financially if an event is postponed due to instant government changes, in reaction to any potential spikes in the pandemic,” he said.

“We are also agreeing to hire space based on lower historical contracted delegate numbers, allowing organisers to mitigate their risk. However, we are already seeing evidence that originally lower number contracted events have the capacity to even double in size in the final months and weeks leading up to the event launch date, which is very encouraging,” he observed.

It’s also easy to see why the NT is intent on building its business relationships with Asia.

Both McCaig and Savoff point out the close proximity means flight durations are much shorter for Asian visitors headed to Darwin than to Sydney or Melbourne. More importantly, the NT sees its economic future in its northern neighbours.

As noted by Savoff: “To our south, we have a population of 25 million (but) in the same radius to our north, we have a population of 350 million. So the NT government and DCC are in unanimous agreement that the future of our economy is in our South-east Asian neighbours.

“We were very much on a trajectory of growth prior to Covid and we are now going back to Singapore (where we previously had representation), looking to renew those contracts,” he said.