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Cross country conferences: down to business in regional Australia

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For Julian Clark, Chair of the Hotel, Motel and Accommodation Association (HMAA), there are obvious attractions to holding a regional conference: getting away from the city and office; purpose built function venues whose entire business revolves around events; a sense of space, and professional, country hospitality as things which set regional venues apart from city locations.

From opposite ends of the country, Paula Boucher, Business Tourism Manager at the Whitsundays, and Andrew Hiebl, Chairman of Business Events Victoria, have similar perspectives on why regional venues attract so many clients.

Escaping from the city

“The core purpose of meeting is about the gathering, sharing and exploring of ideas,” says Hiebl.

“Open spaces and fresh air creates open minds and generates thinking. The ability to learn and engage in a relaxed natural setting is far enhanced compared with that of a boxed concrete jungle.”

For both Hiebl and Boucher, being removed from the distractions of a city’s lights is ideal when business needs to be done.

“The overwhelming sense of freedom with that first breath of fresh air offers something special that cities simply cannot,” says Boucher.

Engaging with local communities

A further attraction is engaging with local communities and Hiebl draws attention to the many benefits this engagement can bring.

“The use of top quality local produce at conference centres not only supports the local community and its producers, but also benefits the environment through the reduction of ‘food miles’,” he says.

Indeed, Hiebl sees the increasing focus on social responsibility by companies as shaping the future use of these venue centres.

“The future of regional conferencing, will be focused towards meeting the needs and goals of those companies and organisations that have strong regional development programs.

“As a result of ‘green wash’ across the industry, social considerations are emerging as factors of high importance, alongside environmental impacts and carbon footprint.”

Specialised activity programs

Without a doubt, one of the main attractions of holding a conference regionally is the range of activities on offer for attendees. Specialised team building and adventure companies have evolved around the business events industry to service this sector.

In the Whitsundays, Boucher describes the many ‘wow factors’ the destination offers, including snorkelling, diving, scenic flights and sailing. She says these activities help guests to “stay motivated throughout their business”.

While Regional Victoria may not offer the heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef as an attraction, Hiebl is no less modest in promoting the ‘wonders’ of Victoria.

“It is hard to escape from the question of ‘why regional Victoria?’ without referring to ‘rugged coastlines, spectacular mountain ranges, extensive tracts of nature and its wonders’,” he says.

He adds that whether it is a helicopter flight over the Twelve Apostles or a visit to a winery, regional Victoria has some of the most beautiful and diverse locations and venues.

Contrasting clientele

Clientele also differs depending on location.

Reflective of the international standing of the Whitsundays, its warmer climate and proximity to South East Asia, many of the clients who use the destination for events are from interstate or overseas.

“Our markets are traditionally from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and New Zealand and the USA predominantly for international business events,” Boucher explains.

In contrast, Hiebl cites intrastate Victorian clients “without hesitation” as primary users of regional venues.

Tantalising imagery, true professionals

The scenery is just one attraction drawing event organisers to venues outside the city’s streets. Aside from promoting their own ‘wow factors’, Hiebl and Boucher’s responses from opposite ends of the country highlight the similarities in reasons for choosing regional venues over a city location.

Clark perhaps sums up their comments best when he refers to the many exceptional regional venues run by true professionals throughout Australia, that provide an experience equal to that of anywhere in the world.

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