A new aquarium, several new hotels and an expanded convention centre are just some of the developments North Queensland will see over the next few years. The surge in investment, particularly in the Cairns region, has come off the back of a strong tourism performance over the last few years, according to Rosie Douglas, director of business and tourism events at Business Events Cairns and Great Barrier Reef.
“The industry’s certainly bounced back and that’s been a combination of the Australian dollar being a lot more competitive, good aviation access into the region through both domestic and international terminals, and the tourism industry in general has been a lot stronger,” she says.
Add to that a push from the Cairns Regional Council, who “led the way” by committing to a number of projects in the city, and you get very strong investment confidence in the region.
One of the most notable developments is the Crystalbrook Collection project that will see three 5-star hotels open in under three years. The project will start with the redevelopment of the Rydges Tradewinds hotel, transforming it into a 311-room hotel with a new 12-storey tower built alongside. Slated to open by July 2018, the property will boast a rooftop bar and lounge, and function and conference spaces for 300 guests. Another dual-tower hotel is planned to open nearby in February 2019 with 222 rooms, 110 apartments, and function spaces, followed by a 300-room premier hotel and street food dining precinct set to open in late 2019.
Just around the corner, the highly-anticipated Cairns Aquarium is taking shape, with the final touches being added ahead of its expected early September opening. It’s a particularly interesting project, considering the last aquarium to open in Australia was nearly 20 years ago. Cairns Aquarium general manager Julie Cullen says it’s also one of the region’s most significant tourism infrastructure investments in more than 10 years.
“Typically the tourism investment happens out on the reef but the land-based investment has been relatively slow over the last 10 years,” she says.
The aquarium is expected to welcome more than 700,000 visitors through its doors each year, adding significant economic benefit to the region.
“It will increase the length of stay in Cairns because it will give people something different to do, and it will complement the other activities that are already out on the reef and in the rainforest,” says Cullen.
The aquarium will boast a number of event spaces, including onsite restaurant AquaLuna with capacity for up to 300 guests cocktail style, which Cullen says will bring a whole new dining experience to Cairns.
“We’ll definitely establish a new benchmark by having a 70,000 litre shark tank in the middle of the main restaurant,” she says.
Events can also be hosted in the Ocean Room, which boasts 360 degree views of tropical fish and sharks, or the River Room that has a seven-metre viewing panel into the River Monsters exhibit. Not only can guests dine amongst the sea creatures, they can even take a guided tour of the aquarium as part of their event.
“Groups can take a complete guided tour through the aquarium or we can do a behind the scenes tour and show you how the aquarium actually works, we can even take you into the turtle rehabilitation area,” says Cullen. “Depending on how much time you want to spend and how interested you are, there’s all sorts of levels of engagement that you can have.”
Further north, the Reef Marina Port Douglas has been approved for an $85 million renewal project that will include a waterfront boardwalk, luxury residences and new waterfront dining and entertainment areas. After opening its first location at Reef Marina Port Douglas just over a year ago, Hemingway’s Brewery has announced it will open a second venue next year in the heritage-listed Shed 2 at Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal. The new 1400sqm brewery will include a restaurant, a providore showcasing local produce and a dedicated event space.
The Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre (MECC) is also riding the wave of success, recently securing six major events that will attract a total of more than 1400 delegates to the Mackay region. Mackay’s strong agribusiness sector has attracted many of these conferences, including the Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologists Conference, which will bring 350 specialists to the region in April 2018, and the Australian Wagyu Association National Conference in May 2018, with more than 500 national and international delegates expected to attend.
Further good news for the region, Cairns Convention Centre is set to undergo a major refurbishment and expansion following the Queensland Government’s recent announcement to contribute $176 million towards the project. Cairns Convention Centre general manager Ross Steele says the funding has been a long time coming.
“Through our extensive experience operating the centre we have identified that if we were able to grow our exhibition size, we would be able to extend our reach to larger events and more importantly to be able to undertake more concurrent conventions which is not possible at the moment,” he says.
“This will allow us to grow the level of incremental business to the city of Cairns and to Queensland over and above the leisure market assisting to diversify and grow the economy overall.”
The funding will be used to add a new 3000sqm exhibition hall and associated meeting rooms, as well as to refurbish the existing facilities.
“It is expected the expansion will allow growth in business providing an additional $30 million of economic benefit for the regional economy each year, greater investment in Tropical North Queensland, 20,000 extra visitors annually and job creation,” says Steele.
“It will also drive complementary development in the business events sector, creating exciting and innovative new offerings for clients and their delegates.”
Steele says with the centre’s forthcoming expansion and the abundance of developments, it is an exciting time for the region and the business events sector.
“Those who have held events here previously will be returning to an entirely different experience with new hotels, a new aquarium and a revitalised city centre with new bars, restaurants and cafés,” he says.
“The ongoing surge in investment is positioning Cairns as one of the most cutting edge, modern regional cities in the world with infrastructure to deliver the new experiential event architecture clients will need to engage their delegates in the future.”