Geoff Donaghy (pictured, below), CEO of the new International Convention Centre Sydney, which opens in December, talks to The Siteseer about the imminent opening of a vast state-of-the-art precinct that will help pump billions into a nation’s economy.
Siteseer: It’s been much heralded; but why is ICC Sydney so important for the events industry in Australia?
Geoff Donaghy: ICC Sydney will be Australia’s premier convention, exhibition and entertainment precinct, and will emphasise that Sydney is one of the world’s most desirable business event destinations. Over 340 events have now been secured at the $1.5-billion venue, which is expected to provide $5 billion in incremental economic benefit to New South Wales over the next 25 years.
The variety of facilities we offer will put ICC Sydney, and the city itself, at the top of the list for many event planners the world over. Indeed we expect it to play a pivotal role in increasing Australia’s market-share of the business events industry.
GD: It’s been built from the ground up on a 10 gigabits-per-second digital backbone, so it’s one of the most technologically advanced venues in the Asia Pacific. Moreover it’s the centrepiece of the 3.4-billion-Australian-dollar transformation of Darling Harbour, set over twenty hectares, that will help revitalise the way business events are delivered in Sydney.
The venue covers more than 200,000 square metres – three city blocks – and it’s flexible enough to allow for any number of space configurations. It will be capable of hosting three major conventions simultaneously with capacities of 2,500, 1,000 and 800 delegates, each with their own dedicated plenary, exhibition space, meeting rooms and catering areas. Plus there’s a dedicated support team to assist through every step of an event.
It also has 35,000 square metres of internal exhibition space, 70 meeting rooms, hospitality suites, a 2,000-seat ballroom – which is the biggest in Australia – and an impressive 5,000 square-metre open-air event deck with spectacular views.
On top of this it’ll be a major draw for entertainment seekers, as we have the ICC Sydney Theatre with 8,000 seats – 9,000 in GA mode – the Darling Harbour Theatre with 2,500 seats and Pyrmont Theatre with 1,000 seats – all of which will contribute to a terrific experience for delegates.
SS: Could you tell us a bit more about the venue-testing schedule?
GD: From the end of this month the centre will undergo three months of intensive operational testing to ensure it’s fully functioning to its world-class benchmark. This will have the added benefit of ensuring staff are trained in-situ for every type of event, as well as previewing the venue to businesses and local communities ahead of the official launch. This is a crucial phase because major international events, such as The Hunger Games: The Exhibition [celebrating the blockbuster Hunger Games movie franchise] are already contracted for the very first day of operation on 20 December.
SS: That sounds exciting – could you share some details with us about this and any other interesting events snagged for next year?
GD: The Hunger Games: The Exhibition will be an experience like none other. It’ll run for 45 days and immerse visitors in the inspirational story of the cult films’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen. It’s the largest build and installation in the first wave of exhibitions to be held at ICC Sydney. It’s also the first time this extraordinary event has taken place in Australia – all thanks to the exceptional facilities and flexible floor space we offer.
The Reed Gift Fairs, OZ Comic Con and Beauty Expo are among Reed Exhibitions’ events that are also gearing up for a huge season at the centre in 2017. Further down the track we’ll host other major business events including Sibos 2018, a world leading financial services event, and the robotics event RoboCup International Symposium and World Championship 2019.
Thanks to the broader entertainment offering at the integrated precinct, we’ll also host performances from international superstars Keith Urban, PJ Harvey and José Carreras.
SS: Your recruitment strategy has been the subject of interest. Could you tell us a bit about that?
GD: Our reputation precedes us. As an organisation we know that preparation and an unwavering commitment to setting world-class standards is key. At the heart of this is our people, who’ll define our offering. We’re currently on a comprehensive recruitment drive to fill 1,500 casual and 300 full-time roles.
Our specialist human resources team has dedicated more than 6,000 hours to recruit these vast numbers before the December opening. To streamline our approach, we’ve developed a specialised digital interviewing platform that allows us to “meet” candidates and assess their suitability for our job requirements and culture. This will save approximately 1,440 hours in group and one-on-one interviews.
SS: What’s the key selling point for Sydney, in your view? Where does the value lie for events visitors, mostly?
Sydney is Australia’s commercial powerhouse and the gateway to its distinguished research, scientific and technology communities. Over 600 multi-national companies run their Asia Pacific operations from here and the burgeoning ICT and digital economy in Australia is attracting even more international attention.
The new centre is pivotal to the unprecedented infrastructure revitalisation taking place that’s positioning the city as a global technology and innovation hub. Beyond this, our venue is located at the heart of all it has to offer. Sydney is a destination international travellers dream of visiting, offering sandy beaches and cultural icons. It’s also filled with green spaces and natural beauty spots with a great choice of outdoor music, theatre, art, history, dining and entertainment outlets.
Not at all. The architectural design means we can cater to multiple events concurrently. As mentioned we can host three conventions concurrently and, depending on their size, we could also host several exhibitions and entertainment acts all in the same week.
We set our sights on the longer-lead, inbound events when the team first came together to market ICC Sydney more than two years ago. Now we have a strong pipeline of national business, public, B2B and B2C exhibitions, the full spectrum of the local market. On top of that, when the main 9,000 capacity-8,000 seat theatre isn’t hosting very large conventions, it’s doubling up as the city’s new heart of entertainment. Entertainment events are being booked in spaces across the venue.
Be assured, when you attend an event at ICC Sydney, you’ll be visiting a dynamic waterfront destination.
In addition to his role at ICC Sydney, Geoff is Director of Convention Centres AEG Ogden and President of the Brussels-based International Association of Congress Centres. He is the latter’s representative on the Joint Meetings Industry Council.
Geoff’s extensive experience in the business events industry was born from his airline and hotel industry experience. He headed the Cairns region’s successful tourism and convention bureau for five years before managing the 1996 opening of the Cairns Convention Centre.
Geoff also served five years as Chairman of the Business Events Council of Australia. He has been awarded the Australia Centenary Medal by the Federal Government, the Australian industry’s Outstanding Contribution Award, and the Joint Meeting Industry Council’s Global Power and Profile Award.