Destination feature: Canberra

The city’s forward-thinking approach is set to leave a mark on the destination long after the global crisis is over.

Canberra, Ngunnawal Country, has earned a reputation for its picturesque open landscapes and considered layout, but it’s the city’s innovation and forward-thinking approach that is set to leave a mark on the destination long after this global crisis is over.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Canberra has been at the forefront of health and safety innovations. Canberra Airport was the first airport in Australia to trial body temperature scanning at security, while the National Convention Centre Canberra (NCCC) was chosen to trial new social distancing technology by Harry the Hirer.

After a successful initial trial of the social distancing e-badges, further developments are now underway to add a contact tracing element to the technology. Canberra Convention Bureau CEO Michael Matthews says the enhanced tech will give the government reassurance that “we’re doing everything we can to help them, should there be an outbreak.”

He says the COVID-safe measures will also help event organisers feel comfortable bringing groups to Canberra in the future.

“We’re trying to do things that we’re not being told to do but that we think are important to help people understand we’re adhering to all the health protocols and we’re going that step beyond to do what we can to make them feel like this is a good, safe place to come,” says Matthews.

New developments await

Alongside Canberra’s existing state-of-the-art hotels, conference venues and national attractions, an influx of new development is on the horizon to further enhance the territory’s business events appeal. The 132-key Adina Apartment Hotel development is well underway in the CBD, while plans are in the works for a Meriton property in the CBD with more than 200 luxury suites.

Refurbishments are also planned or underway for a number of venues. Canberra Rex Hotel is refreshing its rooms and adding new dining and bar concepts, Crowne Plaza Canberra has a three-stage renovation plan that includes adding a Holiday Inn Express and the NCCC is getting an internal repaint.

Pialligo Estate. Image credit: Brittney Levinson

Meanwhile, the National Arboretum has major plans to develop the site further with a new accommodation offering, a 180-seat restaurant and an outdoor live event space. While some delays on these projects are inevitable due to COVID-19, Matthews says there are still about 2,000 new hotel rooms projected for Canberra in the next couple of years.

“We’ve got new hotels coming and that’s why business events as part of the [COVID-19] recovery will be really important, to support that new inventory,” he says.

Ready to welcome events back

For organisers looking to plan their initial comeback events, Canberra is perhaps one of the most ideal destinations in the country, not only due to the city’s innovation but its design.

“The opportunity in Canberra is that it is a well spread out, well-designed city, which enables you to have a high degree of control over your delegate movements,” explains Matthews. “Without that congestion you can really manage the experience, which reduces risk.”

As the home of the Australian Parliament, Canberra’s access to key government decision-makers, industry and association leaders is also set to be a drawcard for business events groups once the industry gets back on its feet. When the time comes for groups to meet again, Matthews expects activity to come back slowly with reduced numbers.

Top Secret gala dinner event at the Australian Parliament House. Image credit: Bradley Cummings

“Then when people start to feel comfortable and they feel like the destination, the venues, hotels and airlines are all doing the right thing to manage their safety, I think people will then start to come back,” he says.

“Because when you meet in person you can accomplish a lot more and I think people will quickly see what they’ve been missing and will slowly return.”

Capital highlights

Vibe Hotel

Vibe Hotel Canberra.
Image credit: Brittney Levinson

It seems the five-year-old Vibe Hotel hasn’t aged a day – the Guggenheim-inspired architecture and warm colour palette still invites guests in. Just steps away from the airport, the hotel offers 191 accommodation rooms and conference spaces for 120 people.

Midnight Hotel

Located in the buzzing Braddon district, Midnight Hotel boasts 199 brand new guest rooms and event spaces for 120 delegates. Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, this stunning property also offers a contemporary yet cosy bar and restaurant.

Australian Parliament House

Put your delegates in front of decision-makers and leaders at one of the few parliamentary buildings in the world that offers private use of its function spaces. The versatile spaces can cater to banquets for up to 650 guests or cocktail events for up to 1,000.

Mercure Belconnen

Mercure Belconnen. Image
credit: Brittney Levinson

Mercure Canberra Belconnen has opened with 125 vibrant guest rooms, adjoining the Canberra Labor Club. Plans are underway to transform the top level of the hotel into a conference space with potential capacity for more than 300 guests.

Pialligo Estate

Set on 110 acres, Pialligo Estate is a must-visit for corporate groups, with a range of dining and events spaces on offer. Pialligo Fields is the newest addition to the estate, offering a bright, rustic event space with views over the fields and Canberra skyline.

This article originally appeared in the Spring issue of Spice Magazine.
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