‘This is Gold Coast’ Business Exchange was held last month, offering a welcome return to a destination that blurs the boundaries between business and fun.
Let’s be honest, there wasn’t much of either in 2020, but the city is ready to welcome back events in a way that only the Gold Coast can.
So what’s changed in 12 months? Well, the Gold Coast has always been a destination that could reinvent itself, so no surprises it has turned into a Hollywood down-under thanks to some lateral thinking by the Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre (GCCEC).
“GCCEC has been hosting business events for 17 years but became production studios for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and the home of a major Netflix film production for many months last year,” said Adrienne Readings, GCCEC’s general manager.
“Meeting rooms became gyms for the stars, much of the building became a film set, our kitchens cooked for the crews. From convention centre to film studio – there’s a memorable ‘pivot’.”
But the last six months has seen the return of several expos, large conferences and banquets, despite the added financial cost of ensuring a Covid safe environment.
“We work hard to adjust each event design to suit current government requirements and ensure successful COVID safe events,” Readings said.
Sticking with the dream factory analogy, where else can you have a gala dinner surrounded by icons of the silver screen? Batman, Scoobie Doo, Austin Powers and more are all brought to life at Warner Bros. Movie World. If you want to see a group photo done in record time just get Batman to rock-up in his Bat Mobile.
There have been major new hotel openings in the meantime, with the JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa marking the debut of Marriott International’s iconic JW Marriott brand in the Pacific region.
Marriott’s take on high-end global luxury comes with six new food and beverage venues led by signature Japanese restaurant Misono and 2,000 square metres of function space across 10 flexible venues.
“Despite the challenges from ongoing international air travel restrictions, we have nevertheless seen strong demand within the luxury hospitality segment this year,” said Sean Hunt, Marriott International’s boss for the region.
Another newbie is the 192-room Rydges Gold Coast Airport hotel which offers a compelling mix of beach resort and airport convenience. Throw in a stunning rooftop venue and event spaces to cater to groups of between 10 and 250 people, all within walking distance of the International Terminal and beach and you have a “truly unique” property, as general manager Luke Harley said.
“Mixing business with pleasure is absolutely on top of our agenda for conferences and events,” he said.
“The Salty Fox rooftop bar is perfect for that end of day meeting adjournment. Adjacent to The Salty Fox is the Kirra Room – our roof-top meeting and event space. The space provides delegates with the added advantage of a sunny deck and coastal views for break-outs.”
The Star Gold Coast is pushing ahead with its hugely ambitious development plans that include a $400 million Dorsett hotel and apartment tower less than a year from completion, and another to open in 2024, adding to its existing hotels – The Star Grand and The Darling.
“As a Gold Coast local for over 15 years I hold a great deal of positivity and optimism, not only for the Gold Coast but more broadly the conferencing and events arena,” said The Star Gold Coast General Manager of Hotels and Residences, Mark Hodge.
“The Star Gold Coast has undergone a stunning makeover and still has an incredible pipeline of tourism and hospitality infrastructure coming, and at a size and quality that we have seen globally in places like Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, but never before on the Gold Coast.”
It’s the Gold Coast, so outdoor venues are in high demand. There’s the chameleon Miami Marketta Markets which can shape shift into any number of venue styles. Head down a hidden laneway, ring for entry (look out for Mona Lisa holding a pink flamingo) and step into its new Champagne Bar.
“We have been so lucky to be officially an ‘outdoor venue’ during these weird times,” said Kath Gourley, Miami Marketta’s event manager.
“Even though our airport hanger style roof provides full cover, our big open air 2,400 square metres space has meant we can operate safely at a higher capacity.”
The Island Gold Coast has also taken advantage of last year’s quiet spell to develop its newest and brightest functions venue the Glasshouse. The innovative marquee-style functions space with glass-panel walls and extra-high ceilings offers over 600 square metres of space catering for up to 700 guests cocktail style.
“There’s nothing else quite like the Glasshouse on the Gold Coast,” said general manager Scott Iliff.
“It’s a very versatile and beautiful event space in a privileged location.”
The YOT Club offers another privileged location, with the super yacht offering a Hamptons’ style venue across two levels.
“We launched the boats in 2019 and pretty much on the day of our first birthday we got the call that everyone was going to be shutting down,” said YOT Club owner David Fisher.
But with light at the end of the tunnel, the company is set to bring two new vessels into the fleet soon.
The newest venue in town opened in May and has already welcomed more than 40,00 people through its doors.
The new HOTA Gallery is home to 4,500 artworks valued at $32 million across 1,000 square metres of major exhibition space. It is also home to a restaurant and bespoke events spaces.
Criena Gehrke, CEO at HOTA, describes the Gold Coast as “a bit maverick in the way we do things”.
“HOTA represents the very DNA of who we are as a city,” she said. “Arts and culture tell the story of the city, it’s the heart and soul of the community. Plus, we have the best view on the Gold Coast.”
Patricia O’Callaghan introduces herself as the new CEO of Destination Gold Coast (150-plus days, but who’s counting) but has a clear understanding of what the city has endured during the pandemic in terms of lost business.
“As city we have experienced some serious heartbreak over the last 18 months,” she said.
“There is one thing about the Gold Coast we are so proud of and that is this ‘have a crack’ attitude. When times are tough and our backs are up against the wall we always find a way to innovate, find our entrepreneurship and on top of that we don’t forget about how important people are.”