Just a few years ago, the mention of Canberra may have conjured up thoughts of politics, roundabouts and memories of primary school excursions. But today Australia’s capital city is in the midst of what some are calling a “renaissance”, with a booming food and wine scene, an influx of contemporary art hotels and growing international interest.
And as Canberra’s image gets a makeover, the business events sector is also refocussing its efforts to attract more international events and incentive groups.
Canberra Convention Bureau director of marketing and communications Giselle Radulovic says often people remember Canberra as the city they experienced on their primary school trip many years ago.
“The city’s seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years definitely in terms of its food and wine offering. There’s a burgeoning amount of great restaurants and bars,” she says.
“There’s a focus on creating entertainment precincts and dining precincts in Canberra, we’ve got a number of great hatted restaurants, a keen focus on using local produce from the Canberra region and we can do that easily because we’re so close to the regional areas.”
One of Canberra’s major drawcards as an incentive destination is the more than 30 cellar doors located within 35 minutes of the city centre. Made up of around 140 vineyards, the region produces award-winning cool climate wines, and with a variation of altitudes, every classic variety is grown somewhere in the region. Some highlights include Shaw Vineyard Estate, the largest vineyard in the region, that produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling varieties, and Clonakilla, home to the award-winning Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier.
Canberra is also home to the only truffle farm in the world situated in a capital city. Located in Majura Valley, The Truffle Farm Canberra is just 15 minutes’ drive from the city and has plenty on offer for groups. Delegates can join the truffle dogs as they hunt for truffles, take part in an interactive cooking demonstration and enjoy a truffle lunch prepared by executive chef Damian Brabender. Truffle season in Canberra runs from mid-May to mid-September and is celebrated with a series of festivals and events by restaurants and venues across the region.
Within the city, the food and wine scene is bolstered by a long line-up of restaurants and bars, many of which focus on serving the best local and Australian produce. Taking inspiration from other cities across the nation, an array of small bars are also opening up throughout Canberra, many of them tucked away in laneways and underground.
Joel Gordon, general manager of Hotel Realm and Burbury Hotel & Apartments, both part of Realm Precinct, says in recent years consumers have demanded more “culinary flair” from Canberra.
“With an influx of out-of-the-box thinking coming from both local and interstate lovers of food and wine, the scene is on an upward trend, with new venues being introduced almost every week,” he says.
Some of the these venues can be found within the Realm Precinct itself, such as French restaurant Buvette Bistro and Wine Bar, casual dining venue Ostani Bar and Restaurant and Chinese restaurant Chairman & Yip, which Gordon describes as “a Canberra institution”. The precinct also features hatted restaurant Lilotang, well known for its Japanese cuisine and range of sake.
“Canberra has always had excellent produce, from the local wineries and farms that are only a short drive out of the city, to the many food festivals that are showcased throughout the year,” says Gordon.
“It’s now our job as hoteliers and restaurateurs to continue to promote the region and the local produce it has to offer our domestic and international travellers, whilst remaining competitive and at the forefront of consumer expectations and local trends.”
Canberra hotels are also creating a buzz, with a number of design-focussed, boutique properties popping up over recent years, including Realm Precinct’s latest addition Little National Hotel, the art-driven Hotel Hotel, and TFE Hotels’ award-winning Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport.
Adding to this line-up, TFE Hotels have announced plans for a 132-room Adina Grand Apartment Hotel in Canberra, which will be designed by architects Bates Smart who were the brains behind Vibe Canberra. The contemporary hotel will be part of a $300 million development by Capital Property Group that is expected to be completed in 2020.
TFE Hotels CEO Rachel Argaman says the hotel will be a milestone addition to Canberra’s burgeoning hotel scene.
“[Canberra] offers a wonderful selection of history, art, sporting and cultural events, and is gathering a following for its food and wine scene,” she says. “I think we will see its popularity grow substantially over the coming years as increased tourism funds the development of more and more attractions for both the domestic and international traveller.”
There’s no denying the world is turning its attention to Canberra. Last year saw the launch of Canberra’s first regularly scheduled international flights on board Singapore Airlines, connecting Canberra to Singapore and Wellington, New Zealand. Following the launch, Qatar Airways also announced plans to introduce a direct service between Doha and Canberra. Radulovic says the Singapore Airlines service has been a great opportunity for the city.
“We now have direct international air access, so we can legitimately bid for Asia Pacific events and international events,” she says.
While the Singapore-Canberra route is gaining traction, Radulovic says the bureau is now focussing on building up the Wellington-Canberra leg.
“We’re keen to attract more New Zealand events into Canberra,” she says. “That is going to be our focus over the next 12 months to build our brand awareness in the New Zealand market.”
And to do that, Radulovic says it’s about looking at what Canberra offers from a different angle.
“We’re talking about the accessibility, about the evolving food and wine scene, and the other activities that you can do here that people may not be aware of,” she says.
“You can get your group up at 5:30 in the morning, take a hot air balloon ride over the centre of Canberra, over Parliament House and the national attractions, then have a beautiful breakfast at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra and still be at your conference by 9:00am.
“What we’re trying to show is that Canberra is not what you remember it to be, or not what you think it may be.”