Believe it or not, although its land mass is larger than the U.S., Australia has a population and economy that is smaller than that of greater Los Angeles. That, coupled with its first-rate convention centers, hotels, and transportation, give Australia strong destination appeal. And its meeting infrastructure is booming. The enhancements the Olympics (September 2000) are bringing to Sydney will make what many say is already the most beautiful city in the world even better. Melbourne's events calendar draws many to this lovely city in the southern tip of Australia, and its multicultural population has sparked a variety of diverse cuisines in good restaurants. Adelaide is the gracious capital city of South Australia, and is renowned for its wine region. Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, in the northeast, has a mild subtropical climate and an airport well-served by international flights. It's a gateway to the Far North, where Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef are must-see destinations.

ADELAIDE hotel news * The 182-room Radisson Playford Adelaide Hotel is the city's newest property, with a ballroom that seats 400, six boardrooms, and three function rooms.

* The Hyatt Regency Adelaide has 367 rooms and a busy events division.

important info Adelaide Convention & Tourism Authority * (61-8) 8212 4794

* Fax: (61-8) 8231 9224

* www.visit.adelaide.on.net

Adelaide Convention & Exhib. Ctr. * (61-8) 8212 4099

* Fax: (61-8) 8212 5101

* www.adelaidecc.co.au

U.S. offices: * (651) 228-1738

* Fax: (651) 228-1754

The center, on the banks of the River Torrens, has a plenary hall of 21,630 square feet, which is divisible into five halls. An additional 11 rooms are available for breakout sessions, with capacities ranging from 446 to 1,034 square feet. The exhibition hall of 25,090 square feet is divisible and holds 1,800 for a banquet.

An $85 million expansion will increase total space by 110 percent, providing 107,639 square feet of column-free exhibit space and banquet seating for up to 3,200. Scheduled for completion in September 2001, the new building will extend over the existing railway station. A new outdoor promenade, with views of the river and parkland, will also be created. More than 1,000 guest rooms are located within close walking distance of the center.

BRISBANE hotel news * The new 267-room Brisbane Marriott, overlooking the Brisbane River, has a ballroom and extensive meeting facilities.

* The 252-room Heritage Brisbane, adjacent to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, has a grand ballroom that seats 320 theater-style, and six additional meeting rooms.

important info Brisbane Tourism * (61-7) 3221 8411

* Fax: (61-7) 3229 5126

* www.visitbrisbane.com.au

Brisbane Convention & Exhib. Ctr. * (61-7) 3308 3000

* Fax: 3308 3500

* www.brisconex.com.au

This most modern large convention center in Australia is located on the south Bank of the Brisbane River. The Great Hall seats 4,000 and is divisible into four areas. There are another 16 meeting rooms and an additional 243,000 square feet of exhibition space, and comprehensive audiovisual and production facilities. It is handicapped-accessible throughout.

CAIRNS hotel news * The 128-suite Reef Hotel Casino will be rebranded as one of Accor's luxury Sofitels.

* Novotel Palm Cove, 12 miles north of Cairns, has completed a major renovation of its conference facilities. The 343-room resort accommodates up to 600 people in its largest meeting room.

important info Cairns & Region Convention Bur. * (61-7) 4051 3588

* Fax: (61-7) 4051 0127

* e-mail: ci@tnq.org.au

Cairns Convention Centre * (61-7) 4042 4200

* Fax: (61-7) 4052 1152

* e-mail: cns_convention@internetnorth.com.au

Three years after its completion, this modern facility has undergone a major expansion, adding exhibition and plenary hall space for up to 5,000.

SYDNEY hotel news * The historic General Post Office has been converted into the 418-room Westin Sydney, with two ballrooms.

* The Four Seasons-owned Regent of Sydney has reopened after a $5 million refurbishment.

important info Sydney CVB * (61-2) 9331 4045

* Fax: (61-2) 9360 1223

* (212) 529 8484; www.scvb.com.au

Sydney Convention & Exhib. Ctr. * (61-2) 9282 5000;

* (212) 529-8484; www.scec.com.au

Two auditoriums have capacity for 3,500 and 1,000; there are 30 meeting and function rooms with capacities for 50 to 600 and banquet halls for 1,600 and 1,000. Six interconnecting exhibition halls offer 296,000 square feet of space.

The annual meeting of the Association of Risk & Insurance Managers of Australasia (ARIMA) was judged Meeting of the Year (for under 500 delegates) by the Meetings Industry Association of Australia for 1997/98. The conference attracted 450 insurance and risk industry executives and was held at the Hilton International in Sydney as well as the adjacent Wesley Conference Centre. International delegates attended from the U.S., England, New Zealand, and a number of Pacific islands. Jan Shaw, events manager for Brisbane-based Intermedia Convention & Event Management, said the four-day meeting involved two elaborately themed dinners, concurrent business sessions, and a 35-booth exhibition.

"Our members' dinner had a Parisian theme. The conference dinner was sponsored by AMP (Australia's leading life assurance company) and as AMP is an Olympic sponsor, we had an Olympic theme. The guest of honor was Sandy Hollway, CEO of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. The Hilton did a superb job," says Shaw.

A switch of venue from a large resort on Queensland's Sunshine Coast to a mountain retreat in the snow fields of Victoria posed a challenge to the creative and organizational skills of Jill Mason of Facet Management, Sydney conference managers. Its client, a leading Australian insurance company, brought 130 of its senior executives together for the three-day strategy meeting at Pinnacle Valley, some three hours north of Melbourne.

"Accommodation was tight," recalls Mason. "We had to get roll-out beds into some of the suites, and delegates had to share facilities. I was worried there might be some grumbles, but everyone got into the spirit."

The legendary Australian bush hat, the Akubra, was given to everyone on arrival, with gloves and scarves arriving later as pillow gifts. A great bonfire helped set the atmosphere on the second evening. The bush theme continued the following evening for the conference dinner when the lodge was transformed with native plants, a bush band played, and the guests were regaled with the verse of Australia's favorite poet, Banjo Paterson.