What have the biggest changes in Sydney been since you joined Luna Park?
I joined Luna Park at a time when the Sydney event industry was in the throes of mourning the pending loss of the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC) and the preparing for the fact that Sydney would not have a major convention centre for a few years. It was a time of uncertainty. A big unknown awaited for the many employees of SCEC but our industry also awaited what this would mean for the city.
Fast forward to today and the new ICC Sydney is now built, and over $100 billion has already been spent on new infrastructure projects by government with another $90 billion still to come. Sydney proved itself as a very resilient and resourceful city. A pool of very talented people have taken advantage of this time, taken a risk, and invested corporate dollars to match government spending. New hotels, venue upgrades, new events and marketing campaigns, driving a tourism focus. The result is a city much more optimistic of the future than the one from five years ago, one I think is making a mark on the world stage like never before. I sense people are genuinely starting to believe the rhetoric that Sydney is becoming a global city. There is much more to do and more to solve – but the belief is there.
So the change in Sydney has been enormous. In terms of Sydney’s event scene, it has been an extraordinary time and I believe one we should be proud of. With no major convention centre, Sydney stayed open for business. We got smarter about what events we went for internationally but I also think we matured in our thinking. We realised the breadth and depth of event experience we have to offer in the city in terms of venues, locations, choices and what could be done with them. It forced event organisers to consider other options, to get creative and think outside the square.
What changes have you seen from clients and their needs?
The trend of “better, faster, cheaper” is constant and remains a mantra for clients and their events. They want quality, speed, availability and space to grow on a budget. As an event venue partner or supplier, we can only achieve this through constantly innovation and improvement of what we do.
Clients are increasingly prioritising the need for efficiency in program timing. Start and finish times are more exact, and clients increasingly understand that their time-poor guests need the content to be relevant and to the point.
They increasingly want their events to really stand out and are looking for a point of difference – to attract guests, to be competitive and to ensure they meet their specific event aims. There is an increasing convergence of business and consumer approaches with events. We encourage clients to look beyond the event times and program itself. What does a guest do before and after the event finishes?
There is an increasing need and want to create an emotional connection, an experience for guests – even for more traditionally formal business events. They need to stand out and increase guests satisfaction and repeat patronage. Networking is very important – it helps ensure guest satisfaction and event success. It is not enough to just create a networking opportunity, clients want to facilitate it. They look to venue partners like us for help to better facilitate networking, through venue choice, value-add activities, the proximity of post-event restaurants and bars.
I also see people wanting to promote who we are, what makes us Australian and incorporating that into things like menus, wine selections and the broader program and event experience itself. It is a pride and a maturity as a nation, that I think still has some way to go, but is noticeably showing itself in our industry.
How has Luna Park evolved in the F&B sector?
Food is at the heart of the success of every event we host at Luna Park. Our culinary offering at Luna Park has evolved over the years to offer a much broader range of regional Australian menus and selections, which are clearly labelled. It is a way for us to help promote Sydney and Australia, while also offering a story and a taste of another Australian place as part of their meal.
Food has become part of the event display, not something back of house and clients are much less conservative and formal than we were 10 years ago in terms of what is acceptable formats for food serving and delivery. Luna Park today offers a vast range of options from mobile cooking and catering stations, carveries, unique and interesting substantial canapes, diverse desert and mini-desert options, and the ability to offer our corporate guests tailored offerings from our precinct’s retail food outlets so that guests can enjoy the park experience in addition to their venue.
Can you cherry pick some of your favourite events held at Luna Park?
Amway China in 2017 saw us serve a premium Australia seafood experience and traditional Asian family style menu to 8500 of our neighbours from China. Many of our guests had never been to another country before and many lived in provincial China, not from large cities. It was very special to see the sheer delight on the faces of guests as they arrived at Luna Park with our stilt walkers and park entertainers to greet them, before being ushered into one of our many ballrooms for a specifically designed feast. When dinner was over, guests were given exclusive use of Luna Park rides and games where they were served desert from one of our many mobile desert stations. As night time fell, they watched an extraordinary Sydney harbour spectacular from our grounds which included mermaids on our boardwalk, Flyboards artists with pyrotechnics streaming from their backs appearing from the water, and two large tall ships sailing into view with an acrobatic show on display from their masts. All this while enjoying the Luna Park grounds from where they could see the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and city lights in the background. The event generated something like 200,000 photos on WeChat and was something really special.
Hosting the King and Queen of Denmark to commemorate Dirk Hartog’s Voyage of Discovery was also something very special. His and Her Royal Highness met the local community for an invite-only celebration in our Crystal Palace ballroom in October last year. It was a spectacular way for Denmark to showcase Sydney and Sydney Harbour with the maritime link for the event, while also tasting our tailored Australian selection of fine wine and fine dining. I also got to meet the “Royal Taster” who travels the world to make sure that any venue host meets the royal standard. I have never been so envious of another person’s job.
Finally, our long association with the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the many events their team has hosted hear is a very special partnership for us. We have hosted the official Australia Day corporate lunches and many networking events. They keep the theming simple, elegant and effective which serves to highlight the beautiful Sydney harbour backdrop in our venues. And it is wonderful to be part of these events that have an outstanding program that looks to celebrate what it is to be Australian. It is always an inspiring privilege to be part of them.
What laid the foundations behind winning The Australian Event Awards ‘Best Achievement in Venue Management’ category?
It was wonderful for our team to be recognised and I genuinely believe the award was 14 years in the making (we officially re-opened as a Sydney event and entertainment precinct in 2004). We have some incredibly talented people many of whom have been hear from the beginning and have moved around into many varied roles within Luna Park Sydney which gives them very broad and unique experience. At the end of the day, success always comes down to people and culture and was well deserved.
Which is your (personal) favourite venue?
We now have thirteen events spaces at Luna Park and every one of them is entirely different, so picking a favourite venue is a very difficult because it really does depend on the size and type of event. Despite so many new and renovated venues though, my personal favourite is an oldie and a goodie – our heritage listed Crystal Palace. It is so unique with high ceiling and arched windows, a very versatile space.