Dreamtime 09: Sydney

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After a jam-packed few days in Uluru, it was quite a shock to the system to come to the ultra urbane city of Sydney, which is the top incentive destination for Australia, according to International Congress and Convention Association and Union of International Associations rankings. I knew I was going to like the place when I got to my 20th floor room at the Four Seasons and saw this view out the window (Note: To see a larger version, click on the photo):

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We had an opening night welcome dinner at The Loft at the Doltone House at Darling Wharf, where they take going green really seriously. This new venue boasts a system that treats sewage for reuse in watering the adjoining parkland; is constructed of concrete made from recycled products and high-performance glass, insulation, and building materials to minimize heat loss and gains; and includes C02 sensors and variable-speed fans to ensure high indoor air quality. And the food was spectacular, too. It was interesting to come together with the rest of the Dreamtime international buyers groups, who had pre-con fams in Adelaide/Kangaroo Island, Brisbane/Sunshine Coast, Melbourne, and Sydney while we were grooving in the Red Centre.

One of my cohorts had predicted that, after being used to getting up for the sunrise, we'd all be up at 3:30 am the next day. I cursed him as, sure enough, I bounced out of bed before 4. But I had the morning off, so I trotted off along the harborfront to see the sun rise over the famed Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, then wandered around the Botanical Gardens, into Hyde Park, and all around the business district before heading back for lunch with the rest of the international media at the Glenmore Hotel.

We worked off our lunch climbing up the Sydney Harbor Bridge as part of the new ExpressClimb route. I'd never even heard of climbing a bridge, but scrambling up through the infrastructure to emerge victorious at the top was a hoot, even with what seemed like gale-force winds threatening to blow us off (we were safely attached to supports throughout the whole climb, so any danger was all in my head).

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Dinner that night was at a very cool new venue called The Ivy, operated by Merivale. Our group was at the poolside party area, which is just one of the many restaurants, bars, and lounges available for groups at The Ivy. It was a little nippy out that night, but the heat lamps, food, and wine kept us feeling toasty.

Then it was down to business for the next two days, with a full-day lineup of press conferences, one-on-one appointments, and a leadership forum to cap off the last day. What I learned most from the business portion of Dreamtime was that there was so much more to this country, both for incentive groups and for me personally. For incentive groups, there were three properties that really stood out both to me and to the U.S. incentive buyers I talked with about it:

Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, a new property that recently opened in the Greater Blue Mountain World Heritage Area. I spoke with some people who did their pre-con fam there, and they said it was absolutely first class all the way.

Qualia, a luxury resort on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, on the Great Barrier Reef. Super high-end, gorgeous, with lots to do and see for those who want it, lots of relaxation and pampering for those who just want to dial it down.

The Southern Ocean Lodge, on Kangaroo Island. Just looking at the pictures of it made my shoulders relax. Again, those who had been there just raved about it as an ideal incentive spot.

At the press conference, tourism officials acknowledged that the economic downturn has caused a dropoff in business, especially from the U.S., and that the economic problems have been compounded by concerns about the perception some have of incentives as being nothing more than junkets. There was agreement all around that we need to do a better job of proving that incentives are good business tools, not boondoggles.

But it's still a good business for Australia. They went over the results of a recent study conducted by Tourism Research Australia in 2008, which found that although business event and incentive travellers accounted for just 3 percent of all visitors to the country, they accounted for 5 percent of visitor nights and 7 percent of tourism expenditures. Also, nearly three-quarters of international business event travelers said they wouldn't have come to the country were it not for the event, so meetings and incentives continue to play an important role in the country's tourism mix.

It was interesting to attend a business meeting in the middle of Luna Park, an amusement park that also has a trade show hall (which used to be the bumper car emporium, someone from the park told me), a restaurant and bar (which was transformed during the daytime hours into the media/press briefing area), and a theater that was home to a Slayer concert by night, and the Leadership Forum by day. The back wall of the room looked out over the park, which was kind of fun because I could swivel around from watching the speakers on the stage to see kids on the Tilt-a-Whirl flying by. Must have been a little strange for the presenters, though. Lunches on both days were held under an outdoor tent at the end of the park, and were catered by the Luna Park chef. The food was outstanding--no cotton candy or hot dogs in sight, just excellent cuisine.

The only other things I have to mention are The Quay restaurant, where the press dinner was held last Thursday night. The function room upstairs is to die for, with a deck overlooking the harbor and 360-degree views of the bridge and Opera House. The food is amazing, if very chi chi. Also, the Australian Technology Park where the final evening gala was held was very cool. It once housed the old Eveleigh Railway Workshops, and now is a state-of-the-art events venue. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was, all gussied up with chandeliers and chef stations. Hard to imagine, I know, but the chefs really outdid themselves cooking in central stations throughout the venue.

I really had to drag myself to the airport the next day. I did not want to leave, especially after hearing about all the other things there are to do and see in Australia. Why oh why didn't I extend the trip for another week (or month, or year)? I tried not to be too big a baby, but I did snuffle a little and hug my stuffed kangaroo as we took off up the coastline, then off across the Pacific toward L.A. and, eventually, back home to Boston.

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