Tag Archives: Australia

You’re a hotelier. With terrifying suddenness, the Coronavirus decimates your events and leisure business. What do you do? Swiss-Belhotel International’s people did some lateral thinking.

Patrick LaybuttWith occupancies plunging everywhere, and recognising that any crisis can represent opportunity for those flexible enough, the General Manager of Swiss-Belhotel in South Brisbane, Patrick Laybutt (left), and colleagues sat together to put action plans in place.

“It was after the introduction of the various Covid-19 restrictions had been introduced in New Zealand,” Patrick explains. “One of our decisions was to look after clients at our Australasian properties who can’t work from home, people who need an office space, or have come back from overseas and need to stay longer.”

With 134 generously sized spaces ranging from hotel rooms to suites with galley kitchenettes at the South Brisbane hotel, for example, they realised they could adapt their apartment-style set ups to include the attributes of an office space.


The result was a “live-stay-work” package, which gives much-needed help to guests while generating revenue for the hotel to continue supporting staff and owners through a difficult time, says Patrick.

The live-stay-work campaign has targeted corporate as well as past and loyal customers seeking longer stays, who were approached via the hotel’s database. It was also aimed at expats returning home. “We worked closely with our extensive network and association connections,” says Patrick.

In South Brisbane, hotel-living package guests can choose, inter alia, a superior room with king-size bed, ensuite and walk-in shower; a river-view suite overlooking the city and Brisbane River towards South Bank, or across the Kangaroo Point cliffs to the city; or a “Swiss SuperSuite”.

SSRV519-Swiss-BelhotelBrisbane-1“Living at Swiss-Belhotel Brisbane in South Bank is like having a permanent office with a feel of home as you experience everything luxury and have a personal haven of relaxation and comfort,” Patrick says.

That means in-room dining, breakfast deals at $17 per person from a selected menu, Uber eats delivered to rooms, in-door pool, gym, unlimited Internet access, 10% off laundry, hand sanitisers in rooms and optional daily or weekly housekeeping.

The response has been great, says Patrick. “People appreciate us being proactive and coming up with a tailored offer that meets current demand. We especially see good pick-up at our Swiss-Belsuites Victoria Park [Auckland] hotel as it’s only five minutes’ walk from a large supermarket and has spacious suites – all apartment-style with balconies.”

Meantime events are obviously on hold given the current clamp-down on gatherings. “Next to general cleanliness, social distance is currently on our mind,” says Patrick. “The health of our guests and associates is our number-one priority.”

POOL-GYM-Swiss-BelhotelBrisbane-2From AUD1,950 a month

A superior room at South Brisbane is available from $90 per day, $560 per week and $1,950 per month. A “super-suite” starts from $120 per day, $805 per week and $3,300 per month.

The hotel is adjacent to the Mater private and public and Lady Cilento Children’s hospitals and the newly opened Ronald McDonald House is directly opposite. It’s ten minutes’ walk to the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and 14 minutes’ walk to The Gabba stadium. The CBD is 3.6 kilometres – eight minutes’ drive – away.

If, as Czech writer Milan Kundera observed, business has only two functions – marketing and innovation – the Swiss-Belhotel is doing both well.

More info, click here.

Email: reservations-brisbane@swiss-belhotel.com





Geoff Donaghy is CEO of the International Convention Centre Sydney, which recently announced a naming-rights partnership with superannuation industry fund First State Super. He chatted to The Siteseer about what this means, and what else is new and exciting at Sydney’s premier, state-of-the-art events venue.

Siteseer: Geoff, what will the partnership mean in practice for the parties, and how will you both benefit?

Geoff Donaghy: [It’s] a commercial arrangement with mutual benefits. For First State Super the partnership gives their brand the opportunity to be in the heart of Darling Harbour and significantly increase their visibility while providing benefits for their members.

But the relationship runs much deeper than that, and shows their confidence in our operation. First State Super is an existing equity partner in the ICC Sydney project and we both see this as a great way to align our values, cultures and businesses. It’s this aspect we’re very excited about exploring and advancing.

ICC Sydney_Convention_No Highway_20190324-578-2SS: How successful was the recent PCO Roundtable and what key lessons did participants take away?

GD: Our PCOs are a very important client group for us, and in March this year we held our second PCO Roundtable. PCOs act on behalf of many of our major international and national clients so it’s immensely important we communicate with them our developments, improvements and advances on a regular basis. [Afterwards clients such as] the CEO of Associations Forum and panel moderator John Peacock applauded us for establishing such a close relationship with PCOs, as did WALDRONSMITH Management Managing Director Kate Smith.

SS: Would you mind pointing to a couple of what you consider to be some other important events at ICC Sydney in the past year or so and why, looking back, they were successful?

GD: Over the past twelve to eighteen months we’ve delivered many major events that have been successful in their own right. [For example] the ASEAN Australia-Special Summit held in March 2018 saw twelve heads of state attend our venue for a high profile and high-security event, which our team delivered seamlessly. In October 2018 we also delivered Sibos, the world’s biggest financial services event. This saw us welcome more than 7,600 business leaders, academics and entrepreneurs from 150 countries.

Exhibitions are an equally important business segment for us and we’ve a number of major repeat events returning to us annually. The Sydney International Boat Show, which uses all of our exhibition space and event deck and builds a major temporary jetty facility in the adjoining Cockle Bay area to display yachts and super boats, is returning to us for the third year in a row next month.

320SS: What are your most important business segments? Do you still see big opportunities in the Asian incentive business?

GD: ICC Sydney was designed to [host] a broad range of market segments – from national and international conventions to trade and consumer events as well as important local events like gala dinners and sales meetings. We’re also the major down-town entertainment venue for the city, which sees us arrange live concerts, musicals and comedy shows.

In terms of economic contribution, venue capability and city reputation, international events are [obviously vital] for a convention centre like ours. Earlier this year we held our second annual CEO Asia Roadshow visiting Japan, China and Singapore as these are markets in which we see enormous growth and potential. We’re also ramping up our activities in North America [resulting in] significant success for both corporate and association events.

SS: Would you mind sharing some facts and figures about how important the integrated ICC Sydney has become for the state and national economy?

GD: Sure. Our first two years of operation saw events we hosted delivering a significant impact for the economy of New South Wales. According to a Deloitte Access Economics study in 2018, delegates attending ICC Sydney generated $820 million in direct expenditure for the state, an increase of $35 million on the $785 million direct contribution of the previous year. International and interstate visitors helped generate 72 percent of the total expenditure, resulting in more than 1.57 million overnight stays in Sydney accommodation and the creation of 5,248 full-time equivalent jobs for the local economy. Next month we’ll be releasing our 2018 and 2019 figures, and we expect these results will further show our contribution to the local economy.

320SS: Does ICC Sydney represent value for money and why?

GD: It has a burgeoning reputation for the highest quality of operation and with both client and delegate satisfaction ratings at 99 percent, yes, we believe we offer very significant value for money.

SS: How well have the people of Sydney embraced it?

GD: ICC Sydney has become the venue of choice for Sydney. As a landmark venue in the city we run a wide range of public events from children’s shows and exhibitions to those hosting international artists such as Kylie Minogue and Seinfeld. We also support events for charities like the Variety Children’s Charity Annual Christmas Party and Stand Tall event involving over 6,000 high school students. Earlier in the year we hosted the inaugural VIVID School, which brought together STEM students and budding artists from years nine to twelve from across the state.

SS: What are the priorities for you and your team right now?

GD: It’s a given that success will attract competition and our industry is immensely competitive, across the globe.

[So] the most important priority for our team is to maintain the highest-possible standards at the highest-possible level of consistency, ensuring we’re constantly reviewing and refreshing what we offer to clients across all our market segments.

SS: Are you still enjoying what must be a hugely challenging job? What pleases you most?

GD: Opening and establishing a world-class venue does come with challenges. What pleases me most is watching the team come together and receiving recognition for their extraordinary efforts across Australia and around the world. This is what I find most gratifying as a CEO in the venue business.

More info: sales@iccsydney.cominfo@iccsydney.com


Geoff Donaghy is Director of Convention Centres for venue management specialist AEG Ogden, which operates convention facilities in Australia, Asia and the Middle East including the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney).

CIC Portraits 100914.CEO of ICC Sydney, Geoff DonaghyHe is CEO of the ICC Sydney, which opened in December 2016 and established as one of the world’s leading convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities.In addition to his role at ICC Sydney, Geoff is Director of Convention Centres AEG Ogden and the immediate past President of the Brussels-based International Association of Congress Centres. He is on the executive committee of the Joint Meetings Industry Council.

Geoff’s 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. He also served for 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.




Like Wollongong itself, the Sage Hotel, adjacent to one of the great sandy beaches of the coastal city, seems to have arrived at a winning formula – to surprise and delight visitors.

Eighty kilometres south of Sydney, Wollongong is traditionally touted (by locals) as one of New South Wales’s best-kept secrets, but its quickly growing business and leisure tourism industry belies that claim. The four-star Sage Wollongong, arguably the most important MICE hotel in the city, located next to the WIN entertainment complex and football stadium, is likewise experiencing a rapid rise in interest.

IMG_1739 2“Our events business is great,” says Jade Gomez (left), the Sage Wollongong’s enthusiastic young conference and event manager. “We’ve had a very good few months where we’ve been running at maximum capacity. We obviously have a significant presence in the local community and get a lot of Sydney business; it’s growing literally by the week.”

There’s much to like about the 168-room Sage Wollongong, not least its boundlessly enthusiastic staff and – importantly for many MICE guests, says Jade – the value for money it represents. The conference package full-day rate for meetings in its 13 events venues of diverse sizes (including a ballroom that can take 400 theatre-style) is currently AUD65. That includes morning tea, lunch prepared by a skilled chef, afternoon tea, continuous tea and coffee, basic AV and other “surprise extras”.

“So for example our terrific Melbourne chef has his own protein-ball recipe, and we will offer these to clients as a welcome snack, or we’ll provide cordial stations in the conference rooms, and . . . interactive food stations,” says Jade Gomez. “It may be more work from our end, but we want to show our guests how much we appreciate the business – and make the breaks between meetings more interesting for delegates who’ve been sitting all day.”

Stage and Screen GPhe team is flexible, too, in working to organisers’ budgets, and constantly offers events incentives. “If you spend $10,000 at the moment we’ll offer you free bus transfers, or pre-dinner canapes, two-for-one breakfasts and so on. We’re always trying to give add-ons and to give back.”

The hotel’s events spaces range from a private dining room and spacious terrace where hosts can set up a bar, to the ballroom that can take up to 500 for cocktails. Some have natural light and many have the new 75-inch TVG screens, projectors and the latest in conference aids. The bedrooms, in a variety of configurations, have clean lines and pale colours that match the brand well. “We steer away from the normal; we’re not just the everyday normal, shall I say, boring, hotel. You see it in the fresh brand and in the attitude of the team members who work here.”

Why Wollongong? For a start there’s much to do, says Jade. The hotel is centrally located, adjacent to a beautiful beach, five minutes walk from a major shopping hub and close to many good eateries. “We don’t just sell the venue, we try to sell the destination,” she says.

“Wollongong is continually expanding, changing and updating, which fits well with our brand and model of meet, eat and explore.”

The beautiful coastal location and relatively light traffic make it a pleasant change from hustle-and-bustle of bigger cities, she adds, with rugged escarpments, heritage-listed parks, bush walks and sky diving and surfing schools providing options for delegates’ activities. A street market nearby on Thursdays showcases local produce. “And we’re only a hour’s drive from Sydney airport, or an easy train ride.”

NEGphotography_Sage Hotel__108The Sage team works closely with the WIN stadium and entertainment centre next door, supplying accommodation, car parking and so on. “We’ll often accommodate concert crews, and recently welcomed all the dancers and crew for the concert of pop singer Cher. In this respect we also have a good relationship with competitors in the area and liaise with them on functions and events – we’ll do lots more business like this is the next year. In addition, many people pop in here for drinks or something to eat before events.”

For those who’d prefer to relax around the hotel there are two restaurants – the Coldwater Creek Restaurant and Bar and the Five Islands Room and Terrace – with well-priced menus, as well as fitness facilities, a heated outdoor lap pool and business centre.

Much of the MICE business is local and from around the region though interest from Asian PCOs is growing quickly, says Jade. “We’ve brought on a new business development manager who’s been developing a range of opportunities, particularly from China,” she says.

“We’re currently seeking to attract more wedding business and to that end are currently updating our weddings packages. With social media, wedding organisers have become more aware of what it is they’re looking for in a venue and we’re looking to meet those needs.” 

From AUD59 per day

Half-day delegate packages start from $59 but the Sage almost always has special offers, says Jade, and is flexible and happy to consider offers and work to strict budgets. Room rack rates online are around $250 per night, but Jade and colleagues likewise offer deals on these.

Although the conference team runs promotions all year round, winter is generally a better time for really good deals. “The worst we can say is no, or great offer alternatives. More often than not we’re flexible and work to meet organisers’ needs.”

Sage hotels in Australia form part of the Next hotels and resorts group, with properties across Australia and southeast Asia.

More info, click here.

Email: reservations.wollongong@sage-hotels.com

Exec Double 2



The technologically brilliant new East Building at the Adelaide Convention Centre heralds further growth in the events business in South Australia – and the state’s economy, says Alec Gilbert, the centre’s Chief Executive. And it’s generating great excitement among operators and clients alike. Alex elaborates in this interview with The Siteseer.

Alec Gilbert: You’ve said publicly that the new East Building heralds a new era for the centre, and that it’s now Australia’s “most flexible”. Could you elaborate?

Siteseer: Yes we’re excited to celebrate our thirtieth year in business with the completion of this two-phase, $397-million redevelopment. A key objective of this project was to create Australia’s most flexible convention centre, and I certainly feel we’ve achieved that, via the design and a number of special installations.

The centrepiece of flexibility and innovation is, without question, our new Plenary Hall. It has seating for up to 3,500 and can be arranged to accommodate around 15 different configurations.

Its defining features include tiered and hinged seating, which can create a theatre-style auditorium, but when it’s lifted, provides a flat floor space to accommodate exhibitions or banquets.

The “operable” walls can be put in place to subdivide the space, in plenary or flat-floor configuration, or they can be retracted to open up the plenary to full capacity.

Alec Gilbert, Chief Executive, Adelaide Convention CentreAnd there’s more. Two rotating seating drums set at the back of the hall, actually revolving auditoriums, can be used as part of the plenary or can rotate 180 degrees in minutes to form two individual theatrettes, with seating for 320 guests each.

The East Building represents the first time these three technologies have been combined in one building, providing exciting and creative opportunities for event organisers. From a broader standpoint, its completion has boosted our footprint to 20,000 square metres of conference and event space. This increased capacity means we’re now not only able to host much bigger events across our three buildings, but also host a number of smaller conferences and events simultaneously.

The highly flexible design allows us to segregate each of our three buildings for exclusive use, or contain activity to specific levels. Larger groups are able to take over the complete venue, but for smaller groups, our design allows us to isolate specific areas within the buildings to provide dedicated, private zones for their guests.

SS: You’ve referred, too, to the seamless integration between buildings. Many venues claim similar characteristics. For yourselves what does it actually mean in practice?

AG: From a physical and operational standpoint, our three buildings are interlinked at each level, and the halls open up into each other, facilitating easy movement and flow. The most dramatic link between the buildings is the new Skyway (pictured below), an elevated walkway that connects our east and west buildings, providing expansive views of the adjacent riverbank.

[These attributes] have already proven to be a great drawcard for several conferences. For example the upcoming International Astronautical Congress in September 2017 will take over the complete venue, with the main plenary held in the East Building and the adjacent exhibition space in the Central and West Buildings just 20 metres away. The 2018 Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association conference will use every bit of flat floor space including the main plenary in which the seats will be raised, and the Land Warfare Congress will adopt a similar configuration.

SS: Anything else that really sets you apart, in your view?

AG: Without a doubt the views offered by the centre along with our location are two additional unique selling points. We’re fortunate to be based at the heart of the city’s riverbank precinct which provides guests with magnificent outdoor views. We’ve made a point of ensuring that, whatever their movement through the centre, guests remain connected to the outdoors in the most spectacular way. All of our foyers offer terrific vistas of the River Torrens, giving guests a great sense of destination.

Location is also key. One of Adelaide’s primary convention advantages is its compact layout and incredible accessibility, which really makes the delegate experience more relaxed and enjoyable. The tagline that Adelaide is “Australia’s most convenient convention city” certainly rings true. We’re just 15 minutes from the airport, have a plethora of CBD hotels on our doorstep and are just a short stroll to the city’s entertainment and cultural precincts, including vibrant cafés, restaurants and laneways.

East 9For those focused on the medical industry, another major drawcard is our positioning adjacent to Adelaide’s BioMed City, one of the largest health and life science clusters in the southern hemisphere, which places thousands of researchers and academics on our doorstep. We’ve worked hard to form a strong alliance with BioMed City to support conference organisers and add value to their programs. We’re committed to helping delegates connect with local thought leaders, industry and research bodies and academics to conduct site tours, share ideas, and gain access to key speakers. The approach is all about enriching the conference experience in the centre and the city itself.

Last but certainly not least, the compact nature of our venue means that the delegate experience here’s more personal than what you’d experience in many other convention centres.

SS: Are you mainly focusing on inbound business?

AG: Totally. International and national conferences are our core business, supplemented by local meetings and events. We have a particular focus on events linked to the South Australian government’s key economic priorities which include medical research, defence, agriculture and biotechnology.

SS: What are the key issues facing your industry in South Australia? What needs to be done to improve things further?

AG: Adelaide is one of Australia’s best-kept secrets, and it’s not just a cliché. Once people visit, they love it and are eager to return. I think one of our greatest challenges, particularly when it comes to domestic business, is that the “critical mass” [of business] is based on the east coast, which obviously often favours east coast destinations. While this certainly poses a challenge it motivates us to work all that much harder to ensure a memorable experience and return business.

SS: Do Australian venues, generally, represent value for money? What have we got that makes us special, and what else should we be doing to stay a step ahead?

AG: Australia is not known as a cheap destination. However Australian venues are very advanced in the facilities and service they offer, whether it’s related to technology or food and beverage. The very competitive industry in which we operate has driven us to become innovative and raise the bar in how we deliver the delegate experience.

EastBuilding004_high-resIn Australia, Adelaide is a great value proposition; due to our scale, we can easily facilitate “walking conferences” with little need for transportation. Adelaide also presents a great range of touring and incentive experiences. South Australia’s world-famous wine regions, Kangaroo Island and the Flinders Ranges are all just a short distance from the CBD.

As for the second part of your question, governments internationally, particularly in Asia, are increasingly recognising the value of business events to their economies and are lending their support to help win business. For us to remain competitive it’s imperative that our federal and state governments recognise the importance of business events through their destination marketing, incentivisation and ongoing investment in facilities.

SS: Could you share some details with us about interesting events you’ve signed up, as well as any recent ones, with a few details, you’re particularly proud of?

AG: As mentioned the first major conference set for our fully expanded centre will be the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in September. It’ll be the largest event ever held in Adelaide in terms of international delegates. It’s the world’s largest annual gathering of space professionals, and more than 3,500 delegates, including astronauts, heads of space agencies, engineers, scientists, innovators, legal and policy specialists, interested parliamentarians and students expected to attend.

Actually IAC is a fitting event for the expanded centre because the venue and the city are very much focused on innovation and future possibilities. We’re working closely with the organisers to ensure it’s memorable. A major attraction is confirmation that tech giant Elon Musk will be a presenter, providing an update on his company SpaceX’s plans to develop technology that would help colonise Mars.

Looking ahead, we’re also excited to welcome the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) back to Adelaide for the third time in April 2018, presenting a fantastic opportunity to market South Australia as a destination. We also have a number of other big industry events on the horizon. On the back of hosting the PCO Conference and Association Forum when we launched our West Building in 2015, we’re excited to welcome MEA and AuSAE to Adelaide in early 2018.

SS: What key lessons have you learned along the way in your own career that could be useful for PCOs reading this?

Adelaide RiverbankAG: We consider ourselves to be your partner in creating winning events; we don’t just see ourselves as a piece of real estate, and PCOs shouldn’t either! Rather we’re committed to working together with clients to maximise return on investment for all parties, not just financially, but also in the experience offered.

SS: How and why are you enjoying the job?

AG: I’m enjoying it on a number of fronts. On an international level the business events community is reasonably compact, allowing you to develop long, lasting relationships around the world.

And international events are booked well in advance, so you’re liaising with clients over a long period of time, forming strong partnerships that see you take a personal interest in their success. When these big events come to the centre and take over every conceivable space, like the upcoming astronautical congress, there’s an enormous air of excitement and buzz, which affects everyone involved and makes it all worthwhile.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my team, many of whom have been with the company for a long time and are committed to delivering winning events. At the end of the day it really is the people who make a business and make it all worthwhile! 



A veteran of the industry, Alec has been Chief Executive of the Adelaide Convention Centre since April 2006, during which time he has developed a widely acknowledged reputation for being an innovator and strong proponent of the value of business events.

A graduate of the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, he was previously CEO of the Durban International Convention Centre. He also attended King’s School in Bruton, Somerset, England.


Shortly after taking off from Sydney on Philippine Airlines flight PR 214, I dropped my mobile phone down the side of the business-class seat. Nothing, absolutely nothing, the cabin crew or I did could get it out. It was lost in the works, down there somewhere.

This was worrying. Like everyone else in the digital age, I need my phone. The purser and his sympathetic team said they’d call a mechanic to help extricate it when we arrived in Manila around noon. But obviously no one could say exactly how long this recovery process would take. And while I waited on the plane after everyone else had got off, my bag would end up on the carousel in Manila Airport’s Terminal 2, alone. Then what? Would someone pinch it?

Ian Robinson_ppAs it turned out I needn’t have worried. After an eight-and-a-half-hour journey, during which I napped under a blanket on a flat bed, watched movies and was served outstanding food and drinks with pristine white linen and silver cutlery, the door opened.

Within minutes, while other passengers were still disembarking, a technician had arrived, dismantled the seat and presented me with my phone. I offered him a gratuity. “No sir,” he said, “it’s my job, and welcome to the Philippines.”

For me this was one of many reminders why group and MICE people travelling from Sydney to the Philippines should consider the national carrier (PAL). It should be considered by anyone seeking good deals for air travel to Asia from Australasia – and not just to Manila. From the capital the airline flies onwards to some 30 domestic and 40 international destinations, at competitive full-service prices.


Full service to Asia

Indeed flight frequency and direct full-service flights from five Australian gateways – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin and Cairns – ensure the airline is the best option for travel between Australia and the Philippines, says Ian Robinson (pictured above), the airline’s ebullient Regional Manager Australia and New Zealand.

This is particularly true for Australasian corporate and group clients seeking a good value-for-money experience, says Ian. “The year-round PAL fares are consistently much lower than those of our competitors on these routes,” Ian says. “In fact our current promotional fare for two passengers travelling together is quite easily the best business class fare to Manila in the market.”

Business class passengers get priority boarding, lounge access (the Singapore Airline lounge in Sydney), an exclusive menu and wine service on board, flat beds and a 40-kilo checked baggage allowance.

3. BUSINESS CLASS A330The experience is set to become even better. Newly refurbished A330-300 aircraft will introduce a level of service and product that PAL has never offered before in the Australian market, says Ian. These planes are already flying from Melbourne and will be in service on the other Australia-Manila routes by September 2017.

A special feature of these “tri-class” Airbuses, which have a new premium economy option, is high-tech Vantage XL seats (pictured left) made in Ireland by aircraft seat specialist Thompson Aero Seating.

What do you get with these? More comfort. Each seat has an adjustable air cushion system and full-flat bed mode, with lots of “living space” to eat, relax or work in enhanced privacy. Each also has direct aisle access, a massage function, adjustable mood lighting and other gadgetry.

Easy upgrades

It’s worth noting that PAL offers some of the most easily “upgradeable” options for group and leisure travellers. There are two options to upgrade from economy to premium economy or business class from Sydney and Melbourne to Manila at present, Ian observes.

You can buy a business class upgrade on departure at the airport, with some exclusions and conditions, depending on seat availability on the day. The deal comes with lounge access and the 40-kilo baggage allowance. (Overall, it’ll still be a cheaper business class fare than those of other carriers.)

But another choice allows you to bid for upgrades to business online. The airline launched the program recently in partnership with technology service provider Plusgrade. It invites eligible passengers via email to submit upgrade bids up to 36 hours before the flight. (Or you can visit the “myPAL Upgrade” web page to check if you can bid for a better seat.)

A pre-determined minimum and maximum price is defined by destination. You then, with the click of your mouse, simply choose within the defined range how much you’re willing to untrouser for the upgrade.

IMG_1135If your bid’s a winner – and much evidence suggests that chances are usually good – you’re notified via email at least 24 hours before departure. In these instances it could cost you as little as around AUD 1,000 to travel business class for each leg of the Australasia-Manila journey.

At present the upgrade bidding program applies to international flights including Auckland, Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Brisbane, Cairns, Canton, Darwin, Fukuoka, Guam, Haneda, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, Macau, Melbourne, Nagoya, Narita, New York, Osaka (Kansai), Port Moresby, Saigon, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Toronto, Vancouver, Quanzhou (Jinjiang).

The program will later be expanded to cover domestic routes and Middle East destinations.

PAL celebrates 76 years of service in 2017 and has been flying to Australia since 1965. It recently set itself a target to become a five-star airline by 2021, and the introduction of the refurbished A330s (and more new planes on a variety of routes) is a step towards this goal, Ian says.

“For those who haven’t visited the Philippines for some time it’s worthwhile to reacquaint themselves with what the islands have to offer the MICE market,” he adds. “Manila’s one of Asia’s most vibrant and colourful cities with expansive MICE facilities and excellent pre-and post options in the idyllic archipelago.”

He recommends customers talk to their specialist MICE agent or PCO when sourcing fares or beyond on PAL. A groups desk and agents support team located in Sydney can assist agents with fares and other related services. Ph 1300 887 822 or email agent@philippineairlines.com.au.

Siteseer says:

I recently flew Sydney-Manila return, in business class. Here are some of my impressions:

The flight PR 214 departure time of 6am on a weekday morning meant getting up seriously early, but I vastly prefer this than having to wait an hour or more in the frustrating runway queues that occur at later times on Sydney’s ridiculously clogged airport.

This flight was on time. Not only that, it got in to Manila around midday, leaving time for work in the afternoon and less exposure to the city’s infamous rush-hour traffic.

Before boarding I had an excellent light breakfast – good coffee, fruit, smoked salmon – at the lounge in Sydney.

It sounds like a cliché, yes, but the Filipino crew were wonderfully obliging and considerate in their on-board service. There was (more) breakfast shortly after take-off: smoked ham, salami, cobram and goat’s cheese served with celery, grapes and fresh breads, followed by heartier options including chicken adobo, pork in ginger-onion sauce and veal chippolata and beef patty. Even at that time of the day there was champagne and plenty of other booze for those who wanted it.

IMG_1113 newSoon the lights were dimmed and I napped comfortably for a couple of hours while my kindle charged via the in-seat power port. (And, as mentioned, while my phone languished somewhere below in the electronic workings of the seat.)

Later, before more food was served, I accessed the “myPAL” entertainment system, which on this flight involved the use of an airline iPad, to watch a movie, of which there was a reasonable choice. Like many carriers these days, PAL has no individual entertainment screens – “embedded systems” – on many of its planes, an arrangement that cuts the aircraft’s weight. (The airline is apparently reviewing in-flight entertainment options.) For me, not having an embedded screen was no bother; I prefer reading anyway.

Coming home to Sydney from Manila, the experience was equally good. The flight was almost on time, I had plenty to eat and drink in the Mabuhay Lounge at Manila airport, the fare, drinks choice and service aboard were splendid, and it was another day flight.

Flight PR 213 left Manila at 11.15am and got to Sydney shortly after nine that evening, when the baggage hall ws almost deserted. For someone who dislikes overnight flights from Asia to Australasia, this was yet another bonus for travelling on the islands’ efficient, value-for-money carrier.

agent@philippineairlines.com.au A330-w-Clouds-2


A Chinese banquet for over 2,000 people, an incentive event for 8,000 already done and dusted, and 500 future bookings secured. You could say things are going pretty well for the new International Convention Centre Sydney.

“It’s clear we’re making an impact,” says CEO Geoff Donaghy (pictured below).

Though the ICC (International Convention Centre) Sydney only opened in December, some early successes have pleased organisers and clients. Take the Amway China Leadership Seminar 2017 in January. It was the centre’s first-ever incentive event and it welcomed an astonishing 8,000-plus international delegates.

The local team had the daunting first-up challenge of hosting and catering for this huge audience, some of whom had little English.

TDP_Oct172016_ICC_01_3621They tackled it by planning carefuly, working closely with Amway China’s people to ensure no issue was left unresolved that might potentially cause problems when guests were on site.

Ultimately, over 13 days organisers used many of the spaces, including the 2,500-capacity Darling Harbour Theatre and the convention centre’s meeting rooms (for breakout sessions). Organisers cited great AV equipment, a 10 gigabits-per-second optical fibre backbone, the layout and organisers’ counsel as helping support a “seamless” experience.

The show also offered visitors the chance to explore the broader precinct, with The Hunger Games: The Exhibition and Brickman Wonders of the World Exhibition, held concurrently in the exhibition halls.

“We received terrific feedback on how proactive our team was in advising the best solutions for our venue as well as how responsive they were to changes from the client,” says Geoff.

The Darling Harbour Theatre, which is also a performance space, became the setting for big presentations while staff hosted the banquet in the grand ballroom, set in the convention centre itself.

CIC Portraits 100914.Associate Director of AV and Events Production of Amway China Bert Li was happy. “Every event comes with its own opportunities and complexities,” he says, “and every detail here was anticipated and delivered to a five-star standard.”

Examples of attention to detail included bilingual signage throughout the venue from theatres and meeting rooms to toilets and lifts, and exclusive routes to ensure large groups could get to sessions quickly and easily. “The team was easy to deal with and quickly addressed our needs” adds Bert.

Memorable feast

According to surveys afterwards, delegates especially appreciated the Chinese banquet. The feast kicked off with prawn and vegetable broth, then moved on to steamed barramundi with ginger and soya, steamed Asian greens, sweet and sour pork with tomato, pineapple and capsicum, braised lamb with stir-fried ginger and spring onions, bok choy, mushrooms, bean curd and fruit.

Delegates arrived in four groups. While in town they sampled Sydney’s attractions and hotels including Luna Park, Sydney BridgeClimb, Sheraton on the Park, The Star, Sydney Tower Restaurant, Captain Cook Cruises and the Opera House.

CEO of Business Events Sydney Lyn Lewis-Smith says it’s clear the centre will boost the city’s reputation as a business meeting destination. Moreover it will inject an estimated $5 billion into the New South Wales economy over the next 25 years.

“As the centrepiece of the AUD3.4 billion, 20-hectare transformation of Darling Harbour it’s generated huge interest from international organisations and played a significant role in Amway China’s decision to return to Sydney for a third time,” Lyn says.

“In the past decade we have seen 20% year-on-year growth from the lucrative Asian incentive market. The centre will drive this further and deliver major cultural and economic benefits.”

Does it represent value for money for events planners? Geoff Donaghy observes that ultimately clients will be the judge of this question. But so far, results speak for themselves. “We’re already receiving return bookings from clients who’ve held events over the past two months, and see this as a strong indication they’re happy with the venue and service.”

For more information, go here. And go here for a virtual tour.



The events-on-cruise-ships idea attests to the adage that there’s nothing new under the sun, and more shipboard meeting options are available than ever before. Yet it represents a market in Australasia with more potential than is currently being realised, The Siteseer recently discovered.

On a five-day voyage from Sydney to Hobart and back aboard the giant new, high-tech Ovation of the Seas, we made some interesting findings. Chief among them:

It’s fantastic value

The meetings-aboard offer is highly competitive. Delegates can meet, eat and have fun on the ship from the equivalent of around USD 200 per person per day.

As Ovation hotel director John Rae (pictured below) said in an interview with The Siteseer while at sea, “When you factor in the holiday aspect, depending on where you are, how long you’re on for and the ports you’ll be visiting, it’s tremendous value. Marvellous food and entertainment is laid on, and the entire program outside the actual meeting and event component is taken care of for you.”

IMG_1208Value-for-money considerations span perks like group discounts and a points system that can earn groups onboard privileges.

Moreover specialist staff aboard can arrange events specifically for each group, like private shore excursions, cocktail hours or other team-building exercises.

It’s as flexible as land-based options

A decade ago, Royal Caribbean International had half a dozen ships. Today it has 25 with five operating down under.

Ovation of the Seas itself is currently cruising a lengthy maiden southern summer season that’s expected to inject more than $35 million into the Australian national economy, according to Adam Armstrong, managing director for the company in Australia and New Zealand.

Events are now a major business for the company. Each ship has customisable venues to suit groups from 18 to 400 people in fit-for-purpose meetings facilities on board or, indeed, the entire ship if bookings are made well enough in advance.

But the run-of-the-ship theatres, lounges, and outdoor spaces can also accommodate groups as small as 25 and as large as 1,394 according to Adam.

Organisers can book a “neighbourhood” on the Oasis or Quantum Class vessels or an “evening reception under the stars” in the Solarium, an enclosed, glassed-in space on an upper deck.

RCI_OV_KungFuPandaRFor example at the time of publication, Ovation was planning to host a fiftieth birthday celebration for 500 people for a bank when it arrived in Singapore, as well as a conference for travel company Expedia, also for 500.

“What we have to do with groups this size is work around some of the bigger public venues on board,” he said.

This means hosting an awards ceremony in the big Royal Theatre or the “Two70,” the cavernous venue, which doubles as a fully equipped theatre for big stage shows, at the stern.

Meantime the dedicated conference facilities on Ovation can be split into four rooms, so organisers could arrange a plenary session with two breakout rooms off it, for instance.

“In Hong Kong and China we recently had famous singers coming on to do a cabaret act as part of a client’s event,” said John. “And we run charters too.”

CruiseCo, a consortium of cruise travel specialists, organises a range of musical charters including Rock the Boat, Cruise Country and Bravo (musical theatre) annually on Royal Caribbean ships in Australasia, with musicians playing in all venues and appropriately themed events for the duration of the trip. “These are some of the best cruises I’ve done,” says John. “Everyone’s there for the same reason, and the atmosphere is great.”

The food is first-class

Flexibility extends to a plethora of dining options. According to group coordinator on Ovation of the Seas Marla Baybay (pictured below), depending on the guests and the part of the world in which the voyages are taking place, chefs on board can produce specific menus for groups, and arrange halal and kosher meals as well.

These meal requests must be made well in advance so the ship has enough stock and can deliver group expectations.

IMG_1192The scale of the restaurant operations is astonishing. Restaurant Operations Manager on Ovation of the Seas Koksal Merdamert (pictured below right, with head chef Sebastian Holda), oversees the serving of around 20,000 meals a day to 4,900 passengers and 1,500 crew.

On a typical seven-day cruise, travellers will consume 3,300 kilos of chicken, 3,750 dozen eggs, 5,100 kilos of beef and 1,700 kilos of french fries.

There are 18 dining options aboard, Koksal said, including Jamie Oliver’s first Australian restaurant at sea, Jamie’s Italian, Chops Grille steakhouse and an Izumi Japanese.

In some eateries like these, the ship charges guests an additional fee. One such venue is the quirky restaurant known as Wonderland, with design themes that resonate with Lewis Carroll’s famous book. The eclectic menu here when we were aboard included “oceanic citrus,” crispy crab cones, duck-liver fritters, “vanishing noodles,” “liquid lobster” (bone marrow and caviar) and eggs in blue cheese and hot sauce.

It’s notable, however, that the other non-chargeable dining options also serve outstanding, classy meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner – from the white-linen and silver-service-type venues such as Silk, American Icon Grill and Windjammer Marketplace – a vast foodcourt.

IMG_1273To run them all efficiently, Koksal and his teams must plan menus up to a year in advance. Wherever possible, the ship’s provisioners order fresh local produce from the ports they visit, and adjust menus in line with guests’ feedback, he said.

“We obviously tailor menus according to which part of the world we’re cruising in,” Koksal said.

“In Asia we’ll serve proportionately more items that suit local tastes like dumplings, noodles and congee. If we can’t serve something that’s on the menu, like New York steak say, we’ll replace it with something even better, perhaps rack of lamb.”

As The Siteseer discovered, events organisers shouldn’t swallow whole the vast majority of complaints about the food, or ship, made on online forums about any vessel. For some reason cruise ships attract a selection of whingers. (“It’s not as good as previous times,” “we had to wait twenty minutes” and so forth. Which begs the question, why do you keep returning? ).

The ships are enticing destinations themselves

Ovation of the Seas claims to be the newest, biggest, most technologically advanced cruise liner to sail in Australasia. This becomes obvious from the moment you check in before boarding when a smiling staffer check your details and asks you to sign you name on a iPad until the time you disembark with an electronic beep scanning your personal cruise card.

“It’s a game-changer for cruising down under,” said Adam Armstrong, managing director Australia and New Zealand.

IMG_1224Added John Rae: “I’ve worked for Royal Caribbean since 9/11 and it’s a phenomenally dynamic work environment, and Ovation is, without doubt, technologically and in its design, in every way, far ahead of everything else.”

At 348 metres long, 18 decks high and weighing 168,666 tons, it’s the fourth-largest cruise ship in the world, with theatre shows, comedy and quiz gig, live bands, plus some genuinely new and gee-whizzey features.

These include North Star, an air-conditioned passenger pod at the end of a hydraulic boom that hoists people about a hundred metres into the air above the ship (we enjoyed this greatly, on a blustery day), and iFly, a vertical wind tunnel in which a powerful fan allows more intrepid guests to simulate free-falling from an aircraft.

Plus there’s a well-equipped gym, vertical climbing wall for mountaineering fans and bumper cars, just like you’d find at a fairground.

Given all these attractions, it’s not surprising that many groups will hold intensive meetings on the first three days of a voyage, then let their people relax and enjoy the trip afterwards, said Marla Baybay.

The business is booming, everywhere

Raw data speaks for itself. There are more and more ships down under, and Australasian seasons are generally getting longer, moving beyond the peak periods of school holidays.

RCI_OV_MusicHallThe Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has revealed that global cruise travel – leisure and group – is continuing to grow and evolve at a record pace. Some 24.2 million people cruised in 2016, a million more than the previous year and almost two million more than the year before that.

“Our meetings and events business afloat changes from market to market, the time of year and the types of group and event we’re hosting, but there’s absolutely no doubt it’s growing,” said John Rae.

It’s “greener” than you may think

As CSR is increasingly important to planners and delegates, it’s notable that the Ovation is flagged by its marketers as one of the “greenest” ships afloat.

For instance it’s equipped with air lubrication systems on the hull to reduce fuel consumption, and Royal Caribbean has removed all incandescent lights; much of the lighting on board is operated by motion sensors.

“We recycle, separate and actually earn money from recycled glass and paper at the ports we visit, with the proceeds shared among the crew,” said Koksal Merdamert. “We adhere to all relevant marine waste standards.”

What makes a group? Eight staterooms or more. Other than that, there are no requirements. You can book a group cruise for weddings, vow renewals, anniversaries, family and class reunions, church retreats and birthdays. To find out more or book, go here or visit the Royal Caribbean International site.

Book well in advance for best results, say these incentive guests

What do people who’ve actually held meetings on this ship say? The Siteseer spoke to Rechelle Dare and Tina Pizzoni (pictured below), Gold Coast- and Brisbane-based managers respectively for helloworld travel. They were on an incentive trip for 14 people from various agencies.

We’ve found the level of support and service terrific. We’re here as recognition for being top achievers in our company. The ship’s people including a maitre ‘d gave us a heads-up about the things we can tell our clients, plus we’ve had a tour of the galley and back stage at the theatre. Fascinating.

We’ve liked the conference facilities where we’ve been holding our more formal meetings at the rear of the ship. We’ve also had a special function in one of the bars [Vintages] which was set aside for us especially. I think the idea of conferences and incentives at sea is fantastic. It’s easier to plan, and you can do as much as you want to or not.

One issue for large groups is that you must book well in advance, so securing space early is key. The conference facilities on board aren’t big enough for really large groups, so you’d need to look at reserving one of the theatres. We’ve been involved in one event afloat where we took up a lot of the ship; we were about 500 strong.

We’ve loved it, eaten wonderful food and had a great time.


Tourism and business events operators should realise that Australia’s first-world facilities, clean environment and friendly people collectively represent a magnificent advantage, says the MD of Tourism Australia.

Siteseer: You’re on record recently as saying that tourism is growing faster than the Australian economy. Does the same apply, in your view, to business tourism and the events industry?

John O’Sullivan: Australian tourism continues to go from strength to strength and is growing three times faster than the Australian economy overall. Our industry has a shared long-term goal to grow overnight visitor expenditure, currently at $97.1 billion, to more than $115 billion annually by the end of the decade as part of the Tourism 2020 plan. Business events are obviously a key contributor to the visitor economy – and for our long-term goals for growth, with the average traveller for business events spending three times as much as a leisure visitor.

All indications from our industry point to robust demand for Australia. In particular we know of a number of large incentive program [organisers] from China who have recently chosen Australia for their events, including NuSkin and Amway.

SS: Are you satisfied that aviation capacity is sufficient to meet demand for inbound business?

JOS: Aviation capacity is vital for an island nation like Australia. In fact it was identified that Australia’s international aviation seat capacity would need to grow by 40% to 50% and domesticwould need a 20% to 30% increase to achieve our Tourism 2020 targets. Already we’ve achieved 66% of the growth needed, tracking 10% ahead of the original forecast growth.

John O'Sullivan Sydney HarbourThis is a consequence of having a very strong aviation development focus – to increase capacity and services on existing routes and to support the introduction of new routes. We’ve seen significant aviation growth out of a number of markets, notably China, and the opening of new routes such as the recently introduced Singapore-to-Canberra services by Singapore Airlines, which help foster international business to the city.

SS: Do you believe Australian hotels and meetings facilities represent good value for money for local and international events and incentive organisers?

JOS: Yes, an Australian-held business event delivers above and beyond the expectations of planners, time and time again. Our industry’s ability to tailor-make itineraries and events, together with our exceptional facilities, unique wildlife and excellent food and wine combine to provide great value for money for incentive planners.

Alongside this, as part of the Tourism 2020 strategy, there is strong focus attracting tourism investment. Tourism Australia works in partnership with Austrade to this end, to ensure we have adequate accommodation and facilities in Australia to [cater for] the increasing numbers of international visitors to our shores.

SS: What, in relation to the MICE sector specifically, do you regard as some of TA’s most significant recent achievements? 

JOS: For the association market we’ve recently been highlighting Australia’s knowledge sectors and innovative people through our content strategy. And we’re seeing some great feedback on this from international buyers. We recently launched Australia Innovates, the magazine which brings these stories together, at IMEX America to strong interest. In the incentive space, we held our Dreamtime showcase in Adelaide in December 2015, hosting over 100 international business events buyers and media and demonstrating why there’s nothing like Australia for business events. The show was a great success, reaching over 25 million people through media coverage, and [generating] several confirmed pieces of business for Australia.

SS: The new International Convention Centre Sydney has been the subject of much publicity. How important is it for the industry and Australia generally?

JOS: The ICC Sydney, on track to open in December 2016, is significant and will assist in attracting future business events to Sydney and Australia. In fact it will be crucial to Australia’s business events future and help us to succeed, with its offering of the largest exhibition space in Australia and an international convention centre that can collectively host more than 12,000 delegates. The entire precinct has been revitalised with new retail and dining facilities, public spaces plus new hotels in the pipeline. That’s also going to generate huge benefit for Australia.

SS: You’re well-known for using social media successfully; how effective has this been, in your view, and what key lessons have you and your colleagues have learned in this respect that might be useful for events organisers?

JOS: We’ve successfully used social media to engage with the leisure travel market through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter along with WeChat and Sina Weibo.

John O'Sullivan 2015From an events perspective we’ve used social media for delegates to share their experiences of our events such as the Australian Tourism Exchange, for the leisure sector, and Dreamtime, for the business events sector, while also using it to share our news announcements from these events with delegates and a wider audience. LinkedIn, too, has been a great tool for business event [organisers] to share insights and information with stakeholders. The key thing we’ve learned is really about making the content relevant to the audience, and inspiring.

SS: There’s been much publicity recently (such as the hotels.com annual survey) about the stellar growth in China tourism. What do Chinese MICE travellers like best about Australia and what should operators be doing to engage them effectively?

JOS: They enjoy Australia’s beauty, in particular our natural environments and their proximity to urban centres. Australia’s seafood and wine, as well as the quality and variety of our food offering, are highly valued by Chinese travellers. Our wildlife, clear open skies and friendly people also appeal. Relationships are key in the China market. It’s important to invest the time and energy to develop these in order to operate effectively and grow your business.


As Managing Director of the nation’s global tourism marketing agency, John is responsible for driving Tourism Australia’s strategies to increase demand for Australian tourism experiences and grow the sector. John joined Tourism Australia in March 2014. He was previously Chief Operating Officer of Fox Sports, and has held executive positions with Events Queensland (Chief Executive) and Football Federation Australia (Chief Commercial Officer), as well as with the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee.

More info: www.tourism.australia.com


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.

CIC Portraits 100914.SS: But in an ever-more-competitive market, what really makes it special?

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.

ICC Sydney Theatre Hero_.2Oct15The 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.

ICCSydney_Exhibition_cmykQ: Are you mainly focusing on inbound business?

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.

More info: sales@iccsydney.cominfo@iccsydney.com


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.

With the imminent arrival of the new Ovation of the Seas in Australasian waters, now’s the time for MICE organisers to start planning a memorable event aboard a billion-dollar, 168,000-tonne floating palace.

So says Adam Armstrong (pictured below), Managing Director for Royal Caribbean Australia and New Zealand. And it’s no mere cliché. At 168,000 tonnes, she’s the equal fourth-largest passenger ship in the world. She has 18 decks, can accommodate 4,905 guests and 1,500 crew and is a jaw-dropping 347 metres long. She’ll make her Australian debut in December, sailing from Sydney, and return for a second Australian summer season in 2017–18.

Adam Headshot 010816Royal Caribbean’s five locally based ships – Ovation of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Legend of the Seas – offer dedicated, large and small meeting and conference facilities. While the company’s core business area is leisure, the MICE sector is growing in influence, says Adam.

“As the Royal Caribbean brand becomes more familiar to Australian companies we’re seeing enquiries increase,” he says. “Most of our Australian cruises are an average of ten or more nights. Our ships are big enough to host large groups [with a requirement to book at least eight staterooms] and our business is nimble enough to work with event partners on their specific needs.”

Adam adds that one of the parameters for organisers to consider is that the average Royal Caribbean cruise is ten to 11 nights, which suits a certain type of event or incentive. Spaces aboard are “sleek and modern” and can accommodate events ranging from a board retreat for a few to a large-scale national sales meeting. There are also complimentary audio and visual services, Voom – said to be the fastest Internet at sea – plus a dedicated crew member who’ll help ensure everything runs smoothly.

That’s obviously in addition to the other facilities on board like multiple outstanding dining options and entertainment and “incredible features like FlowRider surf machines, a sky-diving experience, rock-climbing walls, ice skating and more”.

Herein lies one of the main attractions for PCOs, says Adam. Everything’s in one place. “That includes conference facilities, accommodation, a la carte dining and entertainment – with great service. Plus guests all have access to the incredible features of the ship outside the conference facilities.”

What about the perception some organisers have that facilities on a ship may lack flexibility? Adam has a clear message here: a prime consideration for a MICE event at sea compared to those on land is to ensure the conference aligns with the itinerary you’ve chosen.

“For example we wouldn’t recommend planning a full day of conference talks while the ship is berthed in an idyllic South Pacific destination,” he says. “In addition the cruise you choose needs to align carefully with staff timings. There’s obviously no ability to embark a day late, or debark early. That said, no other venue in the world can offer such variety of experience as a cruise ship.”

1460412496_SEA-Ovation-of-the-SeasRoyal Caribbean offers a small number of two- to three-night sailings every season. They’re popular with new cruisers who want to test the waters and for our repeat guests who might not have time for a longer holiday. It’s also a good option for MICE organisers seeking to limit the amount of time employees spend out of the office.

Competitive cost

Conference costs can vary depending on the style of conference, number of guests, length of cruise, and a range of other factors. Adam suggests discussing this with a trusted travel agent. But a quick scan of the Royal Caribbean International website reveals that an Ovation of the Seas “three-night sampler” cruise departing Sydney on 17 February next year starts at $1,029 per person twin share, for a balcony stateroom. (Cheaper options are already sold out). The five-night “Tasmania sampler” departing Sydney on 23 January 2017 starts at $1,699 per person twin share for a balcony stateroom, with the cheaper options also already sold. That’s just over AUD 300 a day, and it includes meals and entertainment. All up, as experts agree, it will be much less than a similar sojourn at a hotel with comparable facilities, and offering more.

1474615886462Meantime the excitement for Ovation of the Seas’ arrival has exceeded expectations, says Adam Armstrong. “She’s unlike anything that’s sailed here before. The demand for the ship was so high we extended her maiden season earlier this year with an additional four extra cruises from Sydney, and announced she’ll return for the second summer season. Australians can’t wait for her to arrive.”

More information:  Phone 1800 754 500 Groups (in Australia). 866-562-7625 (USA).

Or email Royal Caribbean at this link.