Climbing aboard a camel to see the sun rise over Ayers Rock was spectacular. Scrambling up through the infrastructure of The Sydney Harbour Bridge for a one-of-a-kind view of Australia’s top incentive city was exhilarating. But the biggest thrill for many of the U.S. incentive buyers who participated in Dreamtime 2009, which brought 80 incentive buyers to Australia in mid-October for a business forum, was playing football with a bunch of kids in the Outback.

"It was a big highlight for me," says Sherrie Chelini, vice president, incentives, with Los Angeles–based incentive, travel, and meetings management company Par Avion, of the opportunity to play Australian Rules Football with a group of indigenous children who came from up to 125 miles away to show the Americans how it's done. The playing field was what is known as The Oval, a small slice of green that is part of the Voyages Ayers Rock Resort in the otherwise sandy, rock-strewn landscape of Australia's Red Centre.

Nick Ambrose, business development executive with the Northern Territory Convention Bureau, says it was the first time they had tried this type of program, but given the experience, it won’t be the last. The kids, who ranged in age from pre-teen to almost 20 years old and were brought to the resort from their homes throughout the region, proved to be good coaches, though the innate shyness of the Anangu, as the local indigenous people are collectively known, did make for a tentative start. After briefly teaching the Americans how to kick, hit, and pass the ball, the boys began to play while the incentive buyers retired to the sidelines. Once the game got going and the kids, now in their element, became more comfortable, the Americans slipped onto the field and joined the play. Before long, differences in age, origin, culture, and physical abilities melted away as everyone strove to score goals for their team.

Bringing outsiders into this type of experience with local people was a two-fold experiment, says Ambrose. One goal was to give the visitors a one-of-a-kind chance to interact with the local population in a fun way; another was to familiarize the children of the area with tourists so they will be more comfortable with outsiders. It is a unique way a group can give back to the local community, he adds—one that goes beyond the typical corporate social responsibility activity, such as cleaning up a playground or building a house. Chelini adds that this type of activity would be a good addition to an incentive trip that wants to provide "something unexpected, something with 'heart.' I walked away from the game knowing more about their sport and their people, and really feeling connected to a place through the children. There is simply nothing like it!"

Once attendees left the field, the emphasis on CSR continued. During the rest of the fam trip in Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, attendees learned more about the Anangu culture, history, and mythology through guided tours. They also took a trip to the Uluru Cultural Centre, where one of the highlights was the "Sorry Book," a collection of letters from tourists who had taken rocks from the sacred land around Ayers Rock and, after either learning that this was inappropriate or experiencing bad luck ever since, were returning the stolen pieces to their rightful home. Participants also learned the area’s natural history and local flora and fauna (which mainly consists of snakes, lizards, and dingos), and tried their hands at traditional dot-painting and spear-throwing.

The New Emerald City

The U.S. contingent then traveled to Sydney to join the entire international Dreamtime 2009 group for the business forum that connected buyers and sellers in a speed-dating format. There, everything was so green one could be forgiven for thinking Australia’s top incentive destination was the new Emerald City. "All suppliers and venues chosen to participate in Dreamtime are serious about CSR and reflect Australia's capacity to deliver sustainable events options," says Joyce DiMascio, head of business events for Tourism Australia. For example, the Doltone House at Darling Wharf, where the opening dinner was held, includes a system that treats sewage for reuse in watering the adjoining parkland. The venue is constructed of concrete made from recycled products and high-performance glass, insulation, and building materials to minimize heat loss and gains, and it also includes C02 sensors and variable-speed fans to ensure high indoor-air quality.

Dreamtime organizers also used fuel-efficient vehicles, minimized the need for transfers, and used local food and beverage products for its functions. Leftover food was donated to Oz Harvest, which redistributes the food to charities that support the disadvantaged and at-risk communities in Sydney, Wollongong, and Canberra.

Even the airline used to transport participants to Australia from Asia, Japan, New Zealand, Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. was chosen with eco-friendliness in mind. Qantas' charitable trust, The Qantas Foundation, partners with a variety of community and environmental groups; the airline also uses a fuel-efficient fleet and offers an integrated carbon-offset facility in its online booking tool.

Related Stories

For a personal recounting of Dreamtime 2009, see these posts from the face2face blog:

Dreamtime 2009: Uluru

Dreamtime 2009: Sydney