Practically Perth-fect

The sleepy city of Perth has awoken armed with fresh MICE offerings, and is poised to welcome more business groups into the city

Elizabeth Quay Carousel and Spanda Sculpture juxtaposed against Perth’s gleaming CBD

Perth was once talked about as the city where a restaurant could charge A$50 (US$35) for a humble plate of fish and chips. Thankfully, the economy that reflected that market has since disappeared and so has extravagant pricing in the city’s hospitality and tourism sector.

Elizabeth Quay Carousel and Spanda Sculpture juxtaposed against Perth’s gleaming CBD

No longer same-same, plenty has become different for corporate events in Perth. It’s not even a secret anymore, with Tourism Australia effectively shining a prominent spotlight on the city when it decided Perth should host not one, but all three of its main trade events last year.

Perth has undergone a surprising transformation. The West Australian (WA) capital has spent A$10 billion in new infrastructure and accommodation over the past five years to improve its tourist offering at an “unprecedented” level.

“There’s never been a better time to bring delegates to Perth,” said Business Events Perth’s CEO Gareth Martin. “The capability of our events has really changed with a 40 per cent increase in internal meeting space in the city alone”.

Fresh infrastructure developments
Some developments that have recently come online include the Elizabeth Quay mixed-use waterfront precinct along the Swan River, boasting at its doorstep Australia’s first Ritz-Carlton which opened last November. There’s also the 60,000-seater Optus Stadium, which won last year’s Prix Versailles Architecture Award for the Most Beautiful Stadium in the World.

Travel into Perth is getting more efficient too, with more than A$1 billion invested into an expansion for Perth Airport. An MoU was also signed to create a A$510 million Australian Biome Project at the airport, comprising five high-tech domes showcasing WA’s unique climates and environments in the vast state, and local indigenous culture and art. It’s believed the 15-hectare project will become a major attraction for international visitors.

A new airport link which will get passengers to the CBD in 18 minutes, is also scheduled for completion by 2021.

Before Covid-19 happened, more routes were on the cards. Singapore Airlines launched a fifth daily flight last year, while in January 2020, China Eastern Airlines trialled a new direct flight from Shanghai to Perth three times a week, with the intent of make it permanent. This would connect WA to about 25 million people in Shanghai, which could potentially translate into an additional A$40 million in tourism spend for the state’s economy.

Meanwhile, WA’s key tourist location of Fremantle is undergoing a A$270 million once-in-a-generation redevelopment to be completed this year. Known as Kings Square Fremantle Renewal, the project is designed to transform the port area into a vibrant retail, commercial, hospitality and community space complete with sustainably-built building and designs, and free Wi-Fi throughout the precinct.

These products and more were given the front stage at Tourism Australia’s key trade events –the Australian Tourism Exchange, Corroboree West, and Dreamtime in April, October and December respectively.

New luxurious digs
But what really excited event planners was the city’s new accommodation offering.

Perth has seen a 45 per cent increase in four- and five-star accommodation over the last three years, bringing the total room offering to 13,800 and tourism organisers have promised the prices are pleasantly not what you might expect.

“Five years ago, accommodation rates were ridiculously expensive in Perth. That’s changed dramatically for a number of reasons,” said Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre (PCEC)’s CEO Nigel Keen.

“For one, there was the initial investment in the mining sector where billions were spent with a lot of corporate travel which pushed the rates up and there wasn’t enough accommodation supply. Once the investment cycle came off and they went into production, we found low occupancy. The rates improved (and) at the same time, we’ve had an influx of new accommodation,” he continued.

The new product and pricing reality is the injection Perth needed to re-energise its tourism sector and become a viable international business events destination against its eastern competitors.

The glamorous Crown Towers Perth – which played function host at all three of Tourism Australia’s earlier-mentioned trade events in Perth – has also seen increased international and domestic visitation. “This is (due) to the Optus Stadium and (better) flight access into Perth,” said Crown Hotels Perth’s director of sales, Scott Alderson.

“There is more flexibility and variety in itineraries as we are connected more fluidly through air access, coach transport and now river access too. The whole state is more open and flexible to provide unique itineraries,” he elaborated.

The future looks promising
WA tourism stakeholders including PCEC, The Westin, Crown Towers, Captain Cook Cruises and Sandalford Wines shared with TTGmice that business has been good.

“(We are) 180 years old but this financial year has been the most successful in the company’s history,” said Grant Brinklow, CEO of Sandalford Wines which served 200,000 paying guests last year.

“And that’s due in no small part to the culmination of collective efforts by the (state) government, and significant additional investment by Sandalford and our proprietors in creating wine-related experiences.”

Returning from a day of incentive experiences in Perth during Dreamtime, director of Singapore-based MICE Matters, Melvyn Nonis, said he was convinced Perth deserved another look.

“This was a destination that was tired. People had visited Perth before and as MICE planners we discounted the place because of the high cost and lack of hotel availability.

“But I had a wonderful seafood lunch on a cruise with champagne, and sashimi lobster on the way to Rottnest Island where there are teambuilding possibilities. And there’s a certain uniqueness to Perth so it’s timely for us to introduce Perth to our incentive clients,” he elaborated.

As for geographical markets, with Perth’s isolation from Australia’s bigger eastern cities and close proximity to its northern Asian neighbours, there’s no question where the state will be focusing its efforts. Asia-Pacific already accounts for 90 per cent of incentive business for the state, with the largest source country coming from Malaysia, followed by China and Singapore.

But there is a gnawing fact. “In terms of Australia’s total trade with China, WA accounts for 60 per cent of that total trade, yet only five per cent of Chinese visitors come here,” said Martin. “So there’s an imbalance around the importance of the relationship that WA has with China. And I think that our opportunity is immense.”

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