There may still be more than two years to go before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in 2000, but to the organisers, planners and those responsible for security it seems more like the day after tomorrow. This is expected to be the greatest sporting event in history. In Sydney, and throughout Australia, they appear determined to leave nothing to chance: to make certain there are no more Munichs or Atlantas.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put “down under” firmly on the map, whether for leisure travel or for the business community seeking new conference venues or new playgrounds for incentives.
The result is that two years before the 2000 Olympics many parts of the country are climbing rapidly up the league table of destinations regarded as suitable for international meetings and other corporate gatherings.
Latest statistics from the International Meetings Association indicate that Australia has moved from ninth to fourth place in the international meeting destinations league. In 1996, for example, the country hosted 111 events, compared with 77 a year earlier. The final figures for 1997, when available, could show the country in third place behind the UK and the United States.
Another indication of Australia’s growing prominence in advance of the Olympic Games is the decision of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) to choose Cairns in Queensland for its 1999 annual convention, with 1,500 expected to attend.
Debra Rustom, the manager of meetings, conventions and incentives for the Australian Tourist Commission, says: “ABTA is only for starters. My figures indicate that Australia has secured more than 820 international conventions and conferences scheduled to take place between 1998 and 2008. The average number of participants in each event is expected to be more than 700.”
Sydney is setting the pace for the 21st century with 14,000 expected for the Annual World Dental Congress in 2003, while Melbourne is expecting 7,000 for the World Hairdressing Championships a year earlier. The signs are that Sydney will justify the confidence of the International Olympic Committee, plus hundreds of corporate planners worldwide.
The build-up began last year when the city hosted two of the world’s largest medical meetings. Each attracted more than 6,000 participants from 100 countries for meetings in the Convention & Exhibition Centre on the waterfront at Darling Harbour, one of the stops on perhaps the finest monorail system in the world.
More hotels and facilities are due to open both in the city and around the Homebush Olympic site, 30 minutes from the city centre, where there is be a 160m exhibition complex with 22,000 sqm of column-free space, as well as a second 14,000 sqm area for meetings.
Australia’s flagship city she may be, but what keeps Sydney alert is the knowledge that Melbourne is forever snapping at her heels for supremacy. The capital of the state of Victoria not only boasts the largest exhibition facility in the southern hemisphere, with 30,000 sqm of clear space, but, in addition, the purpose-built Melbourne Convention Centre is just across the Yarra river with the 11,500 seat Melbourne Park indoor stadium nearby. Already there are 14,000 hotel rooms in the area with another 5,000 promised in time for the Olympics.
Sydney and Melbourne are not the only cities which offer conference and incentive destination facilities. Cairns is where Australia made its Dreamtime presentation to meeting and incentive planners from all over the world earlier this year. It also has one of the world’s most modern convention centres and casinos, with seating for up to 2,400 delegates.
Brisbane, Australia’s third city and the capital of Queensland, has a state-of-the-art convention and exhibition centre which claims to be the largest conference plenary facility in the country. It is supported by a new international airport and the revamped Treasury Casino, which has already helped generate more than 208m in new business since it opened in 1995.
In South Australia, Adelaide’s growing corporate importance has led to the opening of Australia’s seventh Hilton Hotel, plus a Grand Mercure, and a Hyatt Regency. The city’s convention centre can host meetings of up to 3,500 delegates. In the evenings, dinners can be planned in the Old Adelaide Gaol or, alternatively, some ‘bush tucker” can be enjoyed outdoors followed by first-hand instruction in the art of didgeridoo playing.
In the Darwin-centred tropical Northern Territory, which features such glamorous names as Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, there is a growing realisation of the need for venues suitable for meetings of up to 50 participants, although bigger events can be hosted in the Darwin Entertainment Centre with its auditorium for 1,000, or the Araluen Centre in Alice Springs that can seat 500.
But one question has still to be answered. What happens after the Olympics? Will Sydney do a Seoul or Atlanta and miss a greater opportunity to market itself and the country as a world destination, or will it follow Barcelona and use the event, not as a goal, but a stepping stone to international recognition?
Of course, every Australian would say the Games will be the beginning, not the end.