“The Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas has been a massive catalyst for other development in Port Douglas,” says Rosie Douglas, director of business events at Cairns & Great Barrier Reef. You can read more about the transformation of that iconic resort in our cover story (page 8). But it’s true, there has been a surge of activity following the refurbishment of Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, with
new hotels coming online over the next few years, including speculation of a new QT in Cairns, in place of the current Rydges Tradewinds (you heard it here first), a 3.5 star 250 room hotel to be built next to the Oasis Resort and a new Nova City apartment complex. The Shangri-La hotel The Marina and Pullman Cairns International are also looking at refurbs.
“Incentive enquiries from China and North America are really strong at the moment,” says Douglas. “It’s part of that Sydney Great Barrier Reef experience that they want. It’s still on the bucket list but for a whole different audience.”
The event calendar is looking very strong at the moment, according to Douglas, with the Rugby League World Cup games, UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and Netball’s Queensland Cup all heading to Cairns in 2017.
Tara Bennett, executive officer at Tourism Port Douglas & Daintree, agrees that this year has been “firing on all cylinders”.
Investment by local businesses such as Quicksilver Group and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures in their product has been matched by new faces such as Hemingway’s Brewery on the new marina development.
“It has fabulous function space upstairs and they can do full buy outs for a capacity of 400, so it has huge potential,” says Bennett of Hemingway’s.
The steam train Ballyhooley, which only used to run on Sundays, is now operating all wekk and can pick up groups staying at the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas and deliver them straight to the micro-brewery.
“It’s a few more fun things to add, although the reef and rainforest will always be the dominant options,” she adds.
Indeed, it is the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef that bring people to this part of the world in their droves. In the Daintree the Mossman Gorge Centre has marked a very successful year notching up an unmatched three medals at the recent Queensland Tourism Awards, taking home gold in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism category.
“Everybody knows who we are now,” says Marian McLeod, business development manager at the Indigenous eco-tourism development centre which gives visitors a taste of the local Kuku Yalanji culture through Dreamtime Gorge Walks which incorporates culture, history and storytelling on private Kuku Yalanji country in the heart of the rainforest.
“We can block it out like a sold-out hotel,” says McLeod. “And you can tell your delegates that we have got you in the oldest rainforest in the world and it’s all yours for the morning.”
There are now even more ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef now with Tropical Journeys and new operator
in the business event market Sailaway offering half day tours in their itinerary.
Sailaway is an interesting example of a new product that encapsulates the philosophy behind many in the region – one of sustainability. In a region that relies on the pristine reputation and uniqueness of being located between two World Heritage listed attractions perception is everything.
“Because we are so passionate about the environment ourselves it is our vehicle to deliver a bigger message,” says Steve Edmondson, owner of Sailway, which operates two (soon to be three) luxury yachts that can take groups up to around 30 for trips to the Lower Isles or simply sunset tours.
“Environmentalism and sustainability is of growing importance. By setting an example that you can operate successfully with a strong environmental philosophy we can educate people while on a fun day about the appreciation and awareness of the environment.”
With authenticity a key attribute, Edmondson lives and breathes his message, with $10 from each passenger going towards a tree plantation (Eco Shamba Tree Farm) to offset its carbon footprint, and many deck hands on board marine biologists to boot.
“Corporate groups want to assimilate with environmentally smart operations with a sustainability plan and great personal service,” he says. “It’s what we try to deliver here on a normal day and equally applies to a business environment.”