Sydney is reopening and reactivating with enthusiasm, with double-dose COVID-19 vaccination coverage in New South Wales reaching over 92.6 percent for those aged 16 and over.
BESydney caught up with several business events suppliers – from event venues to hotels and experience providers – and discovered that corporate groups have already started meeting face-to-face again with bookings and enquiries for larger events picking up in early 2022.
Many operators have also developed new offerings for business events over the two years, providing even more reasons for event managers to book their business meetings and events in Sydney.
Watersedge at Campbell's Stores
Marriott International’s CONVERGE program
Campbell’s Stores is a waterfront precinct at Campbell’s Cove in The Rocks, with views over Sydney Harbour including the Bridge and the Opera House. It is revving up again after a multi-million-dollar building renovation that wrapped up in March 2019.
The three-storey Campbell’s Stores features:
- Several new restaurants including Ploos, headed up by Greek Australian chef Peter Conistis of Alpha fame, and Bay 9 Omakase, a boutique Japanese restaurant.
- Dedicated event space, comprising several interconnected smaller spaces; while the whole precinct – 6,000m2 of space – can be hired exclusively for events of up to 3,000 attendees.
- A further 1,000m2 of the public thoroughfare in Campbell’s Cove can be added to cater for events with 5,000 delegates.
“We’re really lucky because we have all of these smaller spaces where you can have private dining, or you can have one big cocktail function and spread out across a number of rooms,” says Tina Eggers, Head of Business Development at The Venues Collection, which manages the events offering and some restaurants in the precinct, called Watersedge at Campbell’s Stores.
Eggers says they have also received a lot of interest in the outdoor space in front of the building; and that, as the venue operator, The Venues Collection is ready to entertain almost any idea.
“We’re so different. This is a highly creative space,” she says. “You can just go nuts.”
They have already proven their creativity: they have hosted a fashion show with 600 front row seats; turned the upper level into a nightclub; and hosted the Ministry of Sound music festival in early 2021, with just six weeks lead time.
“We just don’t make it difficult for people to pull off their dream,” says Philip Beauchamp, one of The Venues Collection’s Directors.
“It’s a heritage building with modern, forward-thinking venue managers,” says Eggers.
International interest is back on the radar too.
“We’ve started to take some really big enquiries for international business events for 2023,” says Eggers.
BridgeClimb Sydney is one of Sydney’s most iconic experiences, and over the last two years it has been in development mode.
In September 2020, the experience operators introduced the Ultimate Climb – the first new climb of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in almost two decades – which lets climbers traverse the entire span of the bridge, from south to north and back again for the first time in an epic climb, with epic views.
And in 2021, with help from the then-director of Sydney Festival, Wesley Enoch, the operators added another important climb to their repertoire, Burrawa, which is led by an Indigenous guide who explores Sydney’s First Nations history.
“I think stepping more into our role to drive awareness and educate people on Sydney’s Indigenous history is really exciting for us,” says Ali Cassim, Head of Marketing, Product and Digital at BridgeClimb.
“For businesses, it’s so important to growing…consciousness.
“How it will evolve as the business gets stronger is really exciting for us and we’re very focussed on what we can do in 2022 and beyond,” she says.
Each climb can take a group of up to 14 people, and a portion of each adult climb price for Burrawa is donated to BridgeClimb’s charity partner, Tribal Warrior, which supports Sydney’s local Aboriginal community through mentoring and community development.
BridgeClimb is also looking at how it can better use the Pylon Lookout and Museum on the bridge, which are also under its care, for events and groups.
As part of this, it has already made available a “Pylon and Picasso” offering for groups to paint the iconic vista from the top of the Pylon; as well as photography workshops run by Glenn Mckimmin, a landscape photographer and relative of Australian photographer Ken Duncan, which provides an opportunity for participants to hone their photography skills from inside the Pylon and from the Bridge’s summit, 134m above sea level.
Within the Pylon, there are three levels that can be hired out exclusively as an event space for around 100 people. Within BridgeClimb’s base, there is also space which can be used by groups.
“When people book a team bonding experience, we give them complimentary hire of event space,” says Cassim.
“So if someone has a strategy day planned with a team activity, they can do it all with us. We have the lecterns and screens, everything’s sorted.”
Cassim says BridgeClimb has seen some corporate groups coming through for Christmas events and “a nice steady level of enquiry” for the new year.
“The enquiries are starting to flow through thick and fast for next year,” says Serafina Froio, Manager of Retail, Venues and Commercial at the Australian Museum.
In December, the city museum has a busy month of business events, although group sizes are on the smaller side this year – between 80 and 100 people – which fit neatly into a lot of the museum’s spaces.
The venue recently underwent a $57.5 million renovation, which saw it close to the public for 14 months and reopened in December 2020. The major works have added a new event space for the museum, its largest, most flexible space to date. This provides event managers with the best of both worlds: the intrigue and spectacle of event spaces within exhibition galleries– think dinner in a dinosaur shadow or a whale skeleton; and a blank canvas venue in the new Hintze Hall, a striking space surrounded by sandstone walls that lead off into gallery spaces.
“In Hintze Hall we’ve got a really large space, centrally located that is quite robust,” says Froio. “You can make as much noise in there, really, without breaking anything; we can put dance floors in there, for you to jump up and down on; you can have amplified music and it’s not going to disturb any of the exhibits.”
The new hall can host 450 people for a standing cocktail event and 260 to 270 people for a sit-down dinner. Most of the other event spaces throughout the museum are within exhibition spaces and can host 100 to 130 people seated and up to 200 people for cocktails. Froio says the nature of the exhibition galleries also means it is easy to host more intimate events in Sydney.
The renovations also included refurbishment of two other event spaces on level four of the museum, which provide panoramic views across Hyde Park, St Mary’s Cathedral and up to the famous King’s Cross sign, as well as water glimpses out to Garden Island at Woolloomooloo.
Froio says that most events the museum hosts are bespoke.
“We have very unique clients. Often the clients who come to the museum – some of them are just looking for a beautiful space to hold an event– but often they come here because they have a particular interest in something that the museum has or does.”
The museum has its own science division and can provide access to a range of scientists with expertise related to its exhibits to speak at events, according to clients’ interests.
And Froio says her team is now well-versed in running COVID Safe events.
“In terms of helping people feel safe, we know how to do that. It’s not like we have to make it up on the spot or figure it out. We know what we need to do, so even if things happen along the way, we can respond to that relatively quickly.”
And she says there is a strong appetite to get back to face-to-face business events and explore Sydney.
“There’s a great desire and excitement. Everyone’s really keen to get back and do live events.
“The enthusiasm is there. Business is keen to get back to business and is excited about doing that in a face-to-face capacity,” she says.
The city’s major purpose-built convention centre remained open throughout the pandemic to deliver virtual business events when face-to-face events were not possible.
Now, in-person events are returning to the venue in increasing numbers. At the end of November 2021, ICC Sydney hosted 1,000 people for a Property Council of Australia lunch, with another 60 events set for delivery in 2021.
The venue has also introduced a suite of outdoor networking packages to make the most of the summer and capitalise on people’s keenness for events outside.
ICC Sydney’s four outdoor packages offer event planners different themes – from rustic winery to a skydeck social club – and can be further boosted with add-ons including games, tai chi, massages, and meditation.
“Our new Connect Outdoors packages have come at a time of renewed demand for in-person connection and experiences,” says ICC Sydney CEO, Geoff Donaghy.
“ICC Sydney recommends not only extending the length of networking opportunities to meet this desire but enhancing them to elevate the attendee experience overall.
“The Connect Outdoors packages inspire organisers to reimagine networking breaks that take advantage of the venue’s ample open-air spaces including the Event Deck, balconies and foyers.
ICC Sydney’s largest outdoor space, the Event Deck, is 5,000m2 and will host up to 5,000 people once Sydney’s restrictions ease further.
Marriott International’s CONVERGE program
In recognition of a tough 20 months, major hotel brand Marriott International has enlisted the help of one of Australia’s most well-known psychologists, Michael Carr-Gregg, to develop its CONVERGE program which focuses on boosting delegates’ mental health at business events.
Participating hotels have rolled out a multitude of offers to incorporate the philosophy into business events at their properties, with eight pillars to the program that address everything from getting a good night’s sleep, to good nutrition, oxygenating the brain, mindfulness, gratitude, acts of kindness and experiencing new things.
Hotels in Sydney’s CBD and surrounds, including Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park, Pier One Sydney Harbour and Four Points by Sheraton Sydney, Central Park, each offer walking maps of their local areas to help delegates explore Sydney and the inner-city neighbourhoods.
At Pier One, activities originally offered to guests at the hotel to boost creative businesses during the pandemic have now been incorporated into the property’s CONVERGE offering, with delegates able to take blindfolded art classes, participate in floral arranging workshops or learn to make cocktails.
CONVERGE also allows organisers to add yoga or breathing classes by Flow Athletic into a conference program.
General Manager of Pier One Kim Mahaffy says care was also taken to look after staff as the hotel prepared to reopen in early November.
“We actually had three weeks off, it was almost like a pre-opening training, to get the associates’ mindsets and skillsets back up to where they needed to be, to be able to operate a lifestyle hotel in the city,” she says.
Mahaffy also says they are seeing smaller meetings for the remainder of 2021, with things picking up in the new year.
“Next year is looking really positive. I think Q1 next year is very strong. Even into Q2 it’s looking good.”
It is a similar story over at the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park.
“We are seeing a renewed confidence in contracting meetings and events of late,” says Director of Sales, Andrew Best.
“In the past, we had been busy quoting groups and meetings business, but with uncertainty around restrictions and border closures, clients weren’t willing to sign contracts.
“This has certainly turned around and we are extremely busy contracting business for Q1 2022.
“As the month of November has progressed, we are starting to see larger national conferences begin to show interest in the property which is just great.”
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