When South Australia took home the State or Territory Award at the Australian Event Awards in 2015, being officially recognised as Australia’s best region for events, South Australia’s Tourism Minister Leon Bignell said in his acceptance speech that the State was no longer “a little bit dusty and a little bit old”.
“We’re a little bit funky,” he said.
In 2016, South Australia proved it was no one-hit wonder, taking home the award a second time, and, in addition, the State has been listed among the top 10 regions worldwide to visit in 2017 by Lonely Planet, who cited its wine country, produce festivals and beaches among the reasons it is a destination not to be missed, as well as acknowledging its “artistic” capital Adelaide.
Delving into the State’s events scene, spearheaded by Events South Australia, with a strategy that uses Adelaide as both a focal point and as a way to introduce locals and visitors to the State’s regional locations, you begin to understand just how effective their approach is.
The Santos Tour Down Under, which took home Best Sporting Event at the Event Awards in 2016, and which has clocked up seven other Australian Event Awards to date – in fact, it’s been either a finalist or a winner every year since the awards’ inception in 2009 – serves as a prime example.
Owned and managed by Events South Australia, the Santos Tour Down Under began in 1999 as a grass roots cycling event and according to Events South Australia general manager, Hitaf Rasheed, “has always had a clear goal of boosting tourism in South Australia”.
“It does this both by bringing visitors to the state – with some 39,000 interstate and international residents here in 2016 – and though media coverage and its television broadcast,” she says.
The race, which covered more than 780km in 2016 (and will add over 100km to that in 2017), became the first event outside Europe to join the ICU WorldTour in 2008 and has grown year on year to become the largest cycling race in the Southern Hemisphere.
Joining the WorldTour, run by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world cycling governing body, and which also includes the likes of the Tour de France, corresponded to massive growth in spectators and economic impact, with over 200,000 additional spectators in 2009 and an economic impact which more than doubled on the previous year to $39 million. In 2016, 795,000 spectators attended, and the event notched up a record economic impact of $49.6 million.
The impressive statistics no doubt have much to do with the “festival of cycling” Events South Australia has created around the event, turning the nine days of racing into a mass participation event, involving around 7000 recreational and amateur riders who took part in events like the Bupa Challenge Tour, the Bupa Family Ride, the Mini Tour for Kids and the Norton Summit Time Trial, which allow the public to ride sections of the course hours before the professional riders take to the road.
In addition, the State events body works with the councils who hold race starts and finishes – in the six stage race, 10 different metropolitan and regional councils host a start or a finish – as they organise events including street parties, markets, family entertainment and other festivities to encourage people to stay longer in the regions. In 2016, approximately 75,000 people attended these tour related council activities. With the race passing through regions like the Barossa Valley and the Fleurieu Peninsula, the race pushes visitors into regional South Australia, highlighting many of the state’s great tourism assets – its wine regions, great surfing, fishing and whale watching spots and its gourmet food offerings.
As Rasheed says, the Tour features “places often well-known by locals but not necessarily by those who follow the race”.
“The Santos Tour Down Under is unlike any other South Australian event, primarily because it combines a base in Adelaide with regional race stages. This – along with worldwide broadcast and media coverage – amplifies its tourism benefit; visitors experience our vibrant capital and are encouraged to discover all that lies beyond the city,” she says.
“The Santos Tour Down Under is unique among UCI WorldTour stage races for its use of a central city base combined with regional racing. All other events of its type require riders and their teams to relocate each day, a process that is often tiring
for athletes and does not allow events to create a hub such as the Adelaide City Council Tour Village across both sides of Victoria Square.”
The Tour Village, as well as the city finish for the final stage of the race, ensures the capital gets an appropriate share of the spotlight – in 2016, approximately 50,000 people visited the Village for an exclusive look behind the scenes at the day-to-day life of a professional cycling team.
Rasheed believes Adelaide provides an “ideal setting” for major events.
“The city can accommodate fans from around the world, but remains accessible and compact enough to be swept up in the excitement that big events bring. We all know and love the madness of February and March – when annual celebrations like the Adelaide Fringe, WOMADelaide and Adelaide Festival take place – but events in South Australia go far beyond that. They take place throughout the year, and they’re run by people who love what they do and are committed to enhancing their communities, promoting their regions and offering entertainment for locals and visitors alike.”
Adelaide Fringe received a nod as a Finalist in the Australian Event Awards in 2009, while Adelaide Writers Week, part of Adelaide Festival, won Coates Hire Best Community Event in 2015 and WOMADelaide won EVENTelec Best Cultural, Arts or Music Event in 2015
and was a Finalist in the same category in 2016, recognition that both validates the “artistic” label Adelaide deservedly receives and demonstrates how the State has managed to come out on top for two consecutive years as the outstanding events destination.
Alongside the Santos Tour Down Under, Events South Australia also owns and manages several other events including Tasting Australia, which celebrates premium food and wine in Adelaide and provides another opportunity for those in the events industry to demonstrate their capability.
One of those players is renown Adelaide caterer Blanco Food and Events, who hosted a lunch in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens as part of Tasting Australia, highlighting not only the quality of their offsite catering skills but the philosophy of the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, one of a number of their food ventures.
The restaurant provides a fine dining culinary experience of the Botanic Gardens – as far as they’re aware, no other Botanic Gardens in the world offers an experience quite like it – in which approximately 80 different ingredients used in their kitchen throughout the year come from the Botanic Gardens itself.
“There’s just a whole mix and range of produce – some stuff you can’t find anywhere, some stuff that they actually don’t have the strands and species any more…just unusual things,” says Steve Blanco, co-owner of Blanco, on the kind of edible delights which come out of the gardens.
He says it can be “a bit haphazard” for the restaurant’s head chef Paul Baker, because produce deliveries are at the whim of the seasons in the Garden.
“That’s why the creativity part of it is probably more important because [Paul] needs to make use of everything that’s ready and available,” he says.
Baker agrees, describing it sometimes as “feast and famine”.
“Sometimes we’ve got a lot of stuff and we have to get really creative,” he says, citing a recent example when they had 40kg of onions just dropped on the doorstep.
Joining the restaurant in 2014, Baker is the first chef that’s used the Garden’s produce to its full extent, according to Blanco.
“We’ve pretty much unlocked most of the edible plants that we can find in that garden over the two and half years I’ve been there,” says Baker. “I work really closely with the horticulture staff – work out what we can eat, can’t eat, and there’s a number of things that they didn’t even know were edible that we’ve researched and found that we can actually use. The gardens change every day.
“A season in the garden doesn’t run for three months – sometimes winter comes a month earlier so we’ve got winter produce a month or two earlier than everyone else. Some things we can sort of pick from as we go over the weeks and some things once they’re ready we take them out and make use of them. Other times we have something quite unique and we’ll only get one tree of it – we have our own lemon aspen tree – and the lemon aspen was there for two weeks then it was gone.”
Baker doesn’t try to influence what the Garden staff plant and enjoys the unpredictability of the offerings which are delivered to them. He is also quite happy to let the Garden dictate what the restaurant serves.
“Things like liquorice root which we use on one of our beef dishes – the liquorice is actually the core part of that dish – if we don’t have the liquorice root any more, then the dish is over and we have to move onto something else. We just don’t keep the dish going and buy something in,” he says.
For the Tasting Australia lunch, which garnered Blanco Food and Events Best Product or Service at the 2016 Australian Event Awards (to keep company with their other two Event Awards, plus a number from the South Australian and national Restaurant and Catering Awards), Baker teamed up with Anthony Myint, founder of restaurant The Perennial in San Francisco and a veritable celebrity of the food world, to create a four-course degustation menu, along with canapes, which included 16 ingredients from the Gardens.
The lunch for approximately 50 people was held outside in the Botanic Gardens themselves under 150-year-old Moreton Bay Fig trees.
Delivering a fine dining menu offsite is always a challenge, says Blanco. “A lot of that comes down to the creativity of the menu and being resourceful and adapting to things… we pay a fair bit of attention to make sure that it is done well,” he says.
But Baker counters that they now have so much experience in so doing that “we can actually take the restaurant outside into any space that we want to”.
Baker’s claim is validated by the aftermath of the lunch, which, apart from the Event Award, has garnered the Botanic Gardens Restaurant a write-up in GQ France and will most likely see Baker head overseas to two different continents in 2017 to showcase his philosophy and South Australian produce to international audiences.
Baker is also able to articulate how exactly events do such a great job of showcasing what’s unique about Adelaide and South Australia.
“Our events are really just an expression of us – we love the Gardens, South Australia; the producers, they’re all friends, our
wine makers are generally friends of ours – I guess that’s the thing about South Australia – it’s a little place considering how big it is and the whole food community is friends,” he says.
Lonely Planet chose South Australia as one of its must-visit destinations for 2017 for many reasons, but the State’s passion for events was certainly among them, according to Rasheed. “It’s a welcoming, diverse, beautiful part of the world that offers a complete Australian experience without the crowds and frenzied pace of its eastern neighbours,” she says.