Was the Commonwealth Games the highlight of your time at Gold Coast Tourism?
Yes, without a doubt. The Commonwealth Games is the biggest event to be held in Australia this decade, and Gold Coast Tourism’s contribution has been critical to its success. The numbers tell it all – 1.5 billion global viewers on television, hundreds of millions worth of non-paid media and millions upon millions of social media connections. I was lucky to be given the opportunity, and also lucky to choose my own wind down from a career that started as a tour guide in Europe more than 40 years ago. I have always wanted to go out on top, so this timing was a no-brainer.
What challenges were there during your 10 years at Gold Coast Tourism?
Our challenges have been common to all Australian cities. It’s a very competitive domestic market that has seen new destinations and venues emerging in competition for the same business, and of course, over this period we have experienced the rise of Asian cities which aim to take their share of international business from us as well. Offsetting this of course has been our spectacular success in attracting large incentives from Asia such as Infinitus, which will bring 7000 Chinese delegates to the Gold Coast in the week after the Games.
How has the perception of the Gold Coast changed in the last decade?
We have worked long and hard to change the way people perceive the Gold Coast over the past ten years. As Australia’s sixth largest city and one that attracts more than 13 million visitors annually, it can now legitimately claim to have cast off the clichés of Meter Maids, shiny people and shady deals it was once known for. Today it has sophisticated, world-class food and shopping, an edgy arts and live-music scene, three great universities and it regularly produces international blockbuster movies.
How can the Gold Coast keep the momentum going post Comm Games?
We have been working on a post-Games strategy since 2016. Even though last calendar year the Gold Coast received 14 per cent more visitors than the previous 12 months, we have not rested on our laurels, as history tells us that there is often a downturn after mega events. Our challenge and our focus is to get visitors to stay longer so they spend more. FIT travellers, and of course business events are primary opportunities. In the lead-up to the Games we have secured 47 additional business events focussing on sports and sport-related themes and we also recognise our responsibility to keep the magnificent venues built for the games full, so a concerted effort has commenced to ensure the Gold Coast is recognised as the sport participation capital of Australia alongside Melbourne which holds the mantle for sports watching.
How important are securing major events in attracting visitors?
Major events are very important because they help to fill the periods between peak visitation periods and build positively on the brand. It is unlikely we will see anything of the magnitude of the Commonwealth Games again soon, but certainly events which attract 25,000 to 100,000 are on our hit list. We already have a good calendar ranging from motorsport, horse racing, marathon, blues and country music to surfing, and our goal is to have one major event as a headliner for every calendar month.
How have business events contributed to the record numbers of visitors?
Business events are critical in the mix, and as mentioned, because of their high yield are valued above all else. There is solid evidence that many conference and incentive delegates have returned as leisure visitors, often to invest in the economy and buy property. China has been a standout, now with more than 25 per cent of all Chinese tourists to Australia coming to the Gold Coast. Being voted the number one Australian destination of choice and only non-Asian city in the top 10 by Ctrip has confirmed our popularity and driven new interest in incentives and from corporates. Domestically we have also captured market share as Australia recognises the way that the destination has evolved over the past ten years.
Have you seen greater collaboration between the major industry stakeholders over the years?
In all honesty, apart from the very welcome entry and highly valuable contribution made by Tourism Australia a few years ago, I haven’t seen much change in the 18 years I have been CEO of a city marketing organisation. This should not be read as a completely negative however, as it has encouraged strong competition between destinations and venues and driven continuous industry improvement. Thankfully, individually state and federal governments have finally accepted both the direct and less tangible benefits business events bring to their economies, and I am sure there will be many who will be happy to see the end to my incessant haranguing over this. My biggest regret however is that we have not yet been able to come together as a nation with one advocacy voice. So long as we have industry associations and groups with self-interest as their primary focus, the Australian business events sector will not be able to achieve its full potential.