Adelaide hotel boom signals new era for events

Indigo Adelaide Market's Merrymaker rooftop bar.

South Australia is the nation’s wine powerhouse and a foodies dream – it is used to seeing the cycles of nature. And after a particularly gruelling year signs are emerging of a truly bumper season ahead.

Starting late last year there has been a slew of new openings across the hotel and meetings sector that signal Adelaide’s best years are yet to come.

In fact, it has to be said Adelaide is possibly in the best shape it has ever been for event organisers.

The Crowne Plaza and new Oval Hotel kicked things off late last year, followed by the exciting new IHG brand Indigo and SkyCity’s massive redevelopment which includes the Eos Hotel.

These new hotels haven’t just added to the room supply, they’ve completely reimagined what is possible in Adelaide.

Indigo Adelaide Markets marks the brand’s debut in Australia and is certainly something entirely new for the city. A stone’s throw from the iconic Adelaide Markets, the hotel brings a new aesthetic to Adelaide, bolder and more designed focused. It also has rooftop bar Merrymaker with views that match the drinks and food menu, which is overseen by exec chef Gabriele Pezziment, whose talents can be appreciated to the full at Market & Meander Eatery and Bar on the ground floor.

Indigo Adelaide Markets has added a new dimension to Adelaide’s accom scene.

“Adelaide has a unique position and potential to come out of this stronger than ever,” says Thomas Zinn GM at Indigo Adelaide Markets.

“South Australia and Adelaide were able to contain the pandemic very well and both the tourism bodies and government have played an active role in promoting our destination as a safe location to conduct business, meetings and conventions.

“We have had several new hotels open over the past 12 months and the industry has demonstrated how it can adjust and conduct Covid-safe business.”

The Oval Hotel is another unique new build development with a very distinct local focus beyond being attached to one of the most iconic stadiums in the nation.

“The resulting hotel is uniquely South Australian, from the materials we used in construction through to the amenities in the rooms,” says Oval Hotel general manager Bodelle Francis.

“As Australia’s first stadium hotel, Oval Hotel is truly a one-of-a-kind accommodation experience.

“Every part of the guest experience is something special – from the glass of South Australian wine you’ll receive on check in, through to the intuitive technology, premium finishes and thoughtful extras in your room.”

The Oval Hotel Cathedral Suite.

Like so many venues across Australia, the closure of the international border has shifted target markets.

“While we initially anticipated some international interest, particularly around event days, Oval Hotel has always been focused on attracting local and interstate guests,” says Francis.

“South Australia has led the way with its pandemic response and getting events back to the state. With the return of sport and events to Adelaide Oval alongside major festivals and new experiences, we’re confident that Adelaide will continue to attract strong interest from interstate and, hopefully, international visitors.”

While Indigo Adelaide and Oval Hotel are tilted more towards the incentive market, the newly opened Crown Plaza Adelaide has its eyes firmly set on the corporate and events market.

“Pre Covid, Adelaide was experiencing record numbers of interstate and international visitors and we knew welcoming back the Crowne Plaza brand was going to be a much-anticipated arrival for leisure guests as well as business travellers and delegates,” says Crowne Plaza general manager Sarah Goldfinch.

Boasting an enviable location in Adelaide’s East End, the hotel is shoulder to shoulder with some of the city’s best restaurants, bars and cafes.

Goldfinch says that people are looking to connect again face to face “now that Zoom fatigue is a real thing”.

“Our conference and events spaces are very well suited to the size and type of events that are being held at the moment,” she says.

Crown Plaza Adelaide offers the perfect solution to Zoom fatigue.

“We have beautiful, innovative, design-led spaces that fill with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows which can also be blacked out on request. We have the latest technology available and in consideration of Covid, we have just launched ‘Crowne Plaza Connections’ which provides the opportunity for delegates to meet virtually with attendees meeting at other Crowne Plaza hotels across Australia.”

Not to be outdone in the gastronomic stakes there’s also Japanese inspired restaurant Koomo, Adelaide’s highest restaurant with sweeping views of the city.

“We’re excited by the amount of event enquiries we are currently receiving as confidence in meetings and travel continues to grow in Adelaide,” Goldfinch says.

“We are encouraged by the number of corporate travellers staying in the hotel predominantly from Victoria and New South Wales. We have been provided feedback that news about our hotel is travelling around the Victorian corporate market which is incredibly positive.”

Possibly the most significant development for Adelaide, certainly in dollar terms, is SkyCity’s massive $330 million redevelopment that includes Eos, a hotel that has set the new standard for luxury in Adelaide.

“There is nothing like Eos in the state,” says Eos by SkyCity general manager Jodi Brown.

“Eos is bringing a new, extraordinary realm of luxury guest experience to Adelaide, where we are delivering a personalised approach, underpinned by indulgent experiences.”

The hotel offers 120 rooms and suites along with a luxury day spa, and swimming pool and spa pool overlooking the River Torrens.

“We have created something really special where attention to detail is an absolute focus,” says Brown.

SkyCity Adelaide’s $330m redevelopment includes four new restaurants led by Sol Bar and Restaurant.

“We have fantastic in room technology offer, including in-room tablets and soon to be keyless entry. But most of all, there is a strong local story. We have more than 900 local pieces of artwork throughout the building created by 40 South Australian contemporary artists.

“We are working closely with local SA suppliers for our minibar offering and collection of local hardcover books in each of the rooms.”

The local focus goes way beyond the minibar though, as the SkyCity development includes four new restaurants and two new bars headlined by Sol Bar and Restaurant.

Helmed by award winning South Australian chef Kane Pollard, the restaurant has a passionate take on local produce “making everything from scratch”.

“The expanded SkyCity Adelaide will have a key role to play in attracting visitors to South Australia from across the world,” says Brown.

“It is an absolute game changer for Adelaide – the expansion, including Eos by SkyCity, the new restaurants, bars and gaming, will attract a wide range of customers from different markets because of the many options now available.”

Simon Burgess, Adelaide Convention Centre’s general manager, says the addition of so many new hotels and brands to the city is “really positive news”.

“We’re coming out of the Covid-19 period with more hotel infrastructure than we had pre-2020, with additional hotels on the horizon,” he says.

It’s not just accommodation infrastructure in the pipeline with the recent announcement of a new multi-purpose indoor arena, to be known as Adelaide Riverbank Arena, to be built within the heart of the city.

Adelaide Venue Management, the operators of the Adelaide Convention Centre, have been developing the new venue concept over the past four years and will be managing the new facility.

While the venue will first and foremost be used for contemporary live entertainment, it will be fully integrated with the Convention Centre to allow the facilities to jointly host larger conventions and exhibitions.

An underground air-conditioned pedestrian walkway will link the venues, increasing the Convention Centre’s exhibition space by 5,600sqm and accommodating plenary sessions for up to 15,000 delegates.

The proposed new $700m Adelaide Riverbank Arena.

“From a business events perspective, the Arena certainly makes for an exciting proposition for Adelaide in terms of attracting and hosting even larger conventions and exhibitions,” says Burgess.

In the meantime, the centre has a healthy pipeline of events with 33 conferences scheduled between now through until the end of the year. Seven of these events (three of which are to be held this month), are forecast to each bring more than 1,000 delegates.

“Adelaide’s reputation as a smart city, with its increased intellectual capital, will also be key to positioning Adelaide post-pandemic,” says Burgess.

“In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of energy and resources go into the further development of our space, defence, energy, mining and hi-tech industry sectors in particular.

“For example, when it comes to hi-tech, we’re now home to a series of Australian firsts, such as the Australian Institute of Machine Learning (the largest AI facility in Australia and the third highest rated institute of its type in the world); the Australian Cyber Collaboration Centre (the first centre of its kind in Australia); and the MIT BigData Living Lab (one of only four in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere). Combined, these facilities make Adelaide a stronger proposition and further cement the intellectual capital of our city.”

The centre also recently hosted Australian Space Forum, which featured the new head of the Australian Space Agency, Enrico Palermo.

Headquartered in Adelaide, the Australian Space Agency is a direct result of Adelaide hosting the 68th International Astronautical Congress in 2017.

Held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, it was the city’s largest ever business event, and was where the Federal Government announced plans to establish Australia’s first Space Agency, which has since opened at Lot Fourteen in Adelaide’s CBD.

“Lot Fourteen has been the catalyst for additional, significant investment in this area,” says Burgess.

Australia’s first national space agency is located at Lot Fourteen.

“We’re now also home to SmartSat CRC, the most significant national space industry research collaboration in Australia, focused on intelligent satellite systems, advanced communications and analytics, and recently, saw the official opening of the Australia Space Discovery Centre and Mission Control Centre, also at Lot Fourteen. When the Space Discovery Centre opens its doors to the public in May, it will provide opportunity for delegates to immerse themselves in hands-on, interactive space-themed exhibits.”

Adelaide Convention Bureau CEO Damien Kitto says it has been “fantastic” to watch the forum grow.

“Before the IAC in 2017 this event had less than 200 people attending and prior to COVID it was on track to get close to 1,000,” Kitto says.

“Hosting the IAC was the ideal catalyst for the accelerated growth in the Australian space industry not only for SA but importantly for the nation. Since the 2017 event the Federal Government has committed $650 million, which in turn has seen state governments and the civil sector increase their investment.

“It’s estimated to be over $1 billion that’s been totally committed to the space industry over the coming 20 years. The entire country should feel quite proud of the legacy that IAC left in 2017 and ACB’s goal is to now secure IAC back to Adelaide in 2024 which will hopefully continue that momentum.”

Adelaide Convention Bureau was the first to kick off the return of face-to-face interstate events for organisers with DSA 2021.

Despite a last-minute challenge of one state going into lockdown the day before the event, DSA saw 40 attendees fly into the city for the B2B business event.

“We saw the opportunity to be leaders and strategised that it was well worth the risk,” says Kitto. “We owed it to our members and the future of the State’s economy to be brave.”

Kitto also says the bureau “gained the most confidence from our clients”.

“Whenever there was even the smallest potential of risk we re-contacted clients to advise them and they always reassured us they were keen to attend, how vital returning to face to face connection was for business events, and how important it was that we lead from the front,” he says.

DSA 2021 heralded a return of face-to-face meetings for event organisers.

A post-event survey showed 100 per cent of delegates stated the event was “either very or extremely satisfying for them and their business”.

“That was indicative of the pent-up demand out there that simple cannot be under-estimated,” says Kitto.

“Being the first B2B event back for the sector was always going to be well received. People found it reassuring to be back doing what they love and what they need to be doing.”

This is not the end of the new developments for Adelaide. This is city that is reinventing itself. New venues are continuing to pop up such as Weber Barbecues Australia’s Grill Academy which caters for corporate and private events, as well as offering a range of interactive and educational barbecue experiences.

Not to be left out, the InterContinental Adelaide will also embark on a $32 million refurbishment, the first since its opening and what South Australian Premier Steven Marshall described as “a terrific vote of confidence” in South Australia’s tourism and business credentials.

While not new, the National Wine Centre is a staple on any events itinerary and has also been feeling a rise in confidence in the city.

“The hosting of the world’s largest Festival since the pandemic began (the Adelaide Fringe Festival in February and March- which ran seamlessly) and the conclusion last week of the 10 day statewide Tasting Australia program have both also contributed greatly to a feeling of confidence that people can get out and about and we can safely host and attend events,” says general manager Jason Bird.

This month has capitalised on that confidence with three major conferences in the first week alone – The National Wine Centre of Australia hosted SouthStart, the Adelaide Oval hosted AHICE, and Adelaide Convention Centre hosted Ozwater.

“It was great to work with partners from the entire spectrum of the business events industry, and to see the buzz of the delegates,” says Bird. “The fact that each of these events was held with a real focus on Covid safe protocols, and had no issues whatsoever, instils confidence.”

Sample from a range of 120 different wines from across 55 regions at the National Wine Centre.

Marriott is also deciding which luxury brand to bring to Adelaide with work beginning on the hotel that will be located in Adelaide’s former General Post Office building.

Slated to open in 2023, the $200 million hotel will offer 285 rooms, alongside five conference and function spaces, four restaurants and bars, a Club Lounge, swimming pool and fitness centre.

Event Hospitality & Entertainment are also rebranding three properties on South Terrace which will sit under its new umbrella brand, Independent Collection by EVENT.

A more than $15 million program will see all three properties re-branded over 12 months, with two of the properties to be completely refurbished, alongside the creation of a poolside destination restaurant and bar.

There have been losses though. As a food and wine capital it was disheartening to see the hugely lauded Orana restaurant shut up shop and star chef Jock Zonfrillo focus on his TV career. The d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant was also forced to close (for now) just as the hugely quirky fine diner was accruing a legion of accolades.

But for food and wine lovers there is still plenty to be optimistic about with this year shaping up to be a stellar vintage for wine, says Bird who advises any visitor to Australia’s wine capital to “make room in your cellars”.

And with so much renewal on the accommodation front, this year could also herald what may be one of Adelaide’s best vintages for events as well.