If you build it, they will come: that was the promise in Kevin Costner's 1989 baseball movie, Field of Dreams. Bolstering its reputation as the home of some of the world's most inspirational business events destinations and 'can't be bought' experiences, Australia's meetings, incentives and conventions industry is proving that idea works in the real world, too.
While new infrastructure, such as convention centres or stadiums, are certainly playing their part across the country, experience is showing that hosting major events or adding new opportunities to an existing destination are successful ways of attracting and entertaining business events visitors.
Tourism Australia managing director John O'Sullivan says Australia's calendar of festivals and events is constantly evolving. "With many of our destinations attracting unique events each year, there is always something new on offer that groups can tap into."
Take the Vivid Sydney Festival of Music and Light. Created to attract visitors and business event groups to the city during winter, the celebration of light shows, music, arts and ideas is now in its 11th year.
"The festival has certainly reinforced Sydney's position as the creative services hub of the Asia-Pacific region and it has done wonders for what was traditionally a quieter winter period," says Destination NSW and Vivid Sydney executive producer Sandra Chipchase. She says it is now the largest event in Australia.
"Vivid Sydney attendees have grown from 225,000 in 2009 to 2.25 million in 2018. Over this period we've expanded the event footprint and ensured we've
presented a programme that is at the cutting edge of innovation, original thinking, art and new technology.
Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney, which is responsible for attracting global meetings to the city, says her organisation has found Vivid is a major drawcard for clients. She cites a Jeunesse incentive meeting that brought over 6400 Asiabased delegates to Sydney during the festival in 2018.
"Becoming more impressive every year, Vivid Sydney is a great way to refresh the experience for these groups and offer new ways for them to see our incredible city in a different light."
This year's event will take place from Friday 24 May to Saturday 15 June. Highlights include Oscar-winning director Spike Lee discussing films, politics and race;
Pixar Studios projections marking 30 years of computer-generated movie animation; and Samsung using the latest technology to light up First Fleet Park.
Groups can choose from hundreds of activities including the BridgeClimb's Vivid Climb, where you become part of festival as you climb the bridge in a flashing vest. After taking in the views of Vivid from above you can then dance the night away on a special 70's-inspired light-up dancefloor. Alternativley organise a private charter for your group to enjoy the festival from the water, or dine at one of the many restaurants that overlook the harbour.
While Vivid has established itself as an annual drawcard, Melbourne has come under the spell of the blockbuster musical, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Victoria's capital is only the third city in the world to host the on-stage exploits of the boy wizard, after London and New York
Playing into next year, it's the hottest ticket in town and Kiwi business groups have the opportunity to use it as the jumping-off point for a broader itinerary. Think of it as a destination with benefits: groups can take time to explore the Yarra Valley or Mornington Peninsula wineries and golf courses during the day and enjoy the city's exceptional restaurants and the show at night.
But Australia's attractions are not confined to the major cities: the unique landscapes of its vast interior are an enticement for incentive groups.
As darkness falls over Uluru, British artist Bruce Munro's Field of Light begins to play against the iconic backdrop. The desert becomes a fantasy garden, the size of nine football fields, of 50,000 breathing and swaying solar-powered spindles of light in myriad colours.
Due to its success, the exhibition has been extended until the end of next year. There are a number of ways to experience the magical Field of Light at Uluru these include riding in on a camel or helicopter, watching as the sunrises or enjoying a special dinner under the night sky. A great place to stay is the Ayers Rock Resort which includes five hotels within walking distance of each other.
For business events groups, the resort also offers a range of unique experiences including the chance to connect with Australia's ancient culture through Indigenous workshops and tours, biking or seqwaying around Uluru and an award winning feast under the starry desert sky.
Uluru Meeting Place is the resort's new conference complex, with two large ballrooms that fit 300 and 420 guests, an outdoor amphitheatre for 350, exhibition and breakout spaces hosting 25 to 300+ guests. Other poolside and dune-top sites offer views of Uluru.
In South Australia, the recently opened d'Arenberg Cube has been created as an utterly contemporary experience, drawing visitors to its premium food and wine offerings, as well as its focus on modern art – see accompanying feature.
It's a Kiwi tradition to mix business with football, and time that transtasman trip to coincide with a Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney or Melbourne. This year, there's extra incentive to cross the ditch.
Because it's Rugby World Cup year, there's only one match in Australia in 2019; and for the first time, it'll be played in Perth, at the new Optus Stadium, on Saturday 10 August.
The 60,000-seat state of the art stadium has been conceived with events in mind. On the picturesque Swan River, it has 18 specially designed spaces that can host from two to 2000 guests including rooftop venues.
Aside from traditional function rooms, the Locker Room (340 guests) at the edge of the playing surface has views of the team warm-up facilities and ground-level views of the game.
The Coaches' Room is a dining space flanked by the coaches' boxes and
overlooking the pitch. The most exciting venue: the Field of Play. Yes, you can hire the ground for an unforgettable, large-scale event.
They built it, and thousands are coming. Perth will be buzzing in the days and nights around the match. While the game
is the hottest ticket in town, with corporate hospitality packages sold out, there's plenty for a group to see and do around Perth, consistently rated as one of the world's most livable cities.
Following a major transformation, the city is host to an array of new hotels, bars, restaurants and public spaces. Within an hour of the CBD are pristine Rottnest Island, the Swan Valley and Perth Hills wine regions, and the lively port city of Fremantle.
"Australia has truly recognised the benefit of appealing to the business events market, whether they are targeting a large conference or high-end incentive" Diana McIlwrick, Dinamics Event Management.
PERFECT FOR KIWIS
For New Zealand organisations, there's never been a better time to stage a business event in Australia. Diana McIlwrick is a director of Dinamics Event Management, a Queenstown-based company specialising in conference services, incentives and retreats, and teambuilding for more than 25 years. Her company has taken corporate groups to the US, Tahiti, Egypt and Europe, but she says with new hotels, experiences and venues coming online constantly, Australia is really proving to be a force to reckon with.
"Australia has truly recognised the benefit of appealing to the business events market, whether they are targeting a large conference or high-end incentive. "It never ceases to amaze me how we can design such a wide range of unique programmes for our clients, whatever their budget.
" She likes that no matter the time of the year, there are a wide range of destinations for groups to choose from.
"There are always new or different events to wrap your incentive or conference around - our clients have loved Vivid Sydney, Polo by the Sea on the Gold Coast and Field of Light in Uluru. "We also love discovering new venues that we can share with our clients.
MONA in Hobart is a favourite and we cannot wait to take clients to the d'Arenberg Cube later this year." The short hop across the Tasman is another bonus. With direct flights from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin or Queenstown and connecting flights to regional areas in both countries, there's no long-haul travel.