The announcement of a feasibility study into a new convention centre for the Sunshine Coast is very welcome.
A dedicated, multi-functional meetings and events centre would be a huge asset for the Sunshine Coast and would be a centrepiece for the new Maroochydore town centre.
It would also complement the re-development of the airport and upgrading of the Bruce Highway.
But rightfully, the first priority is to thoroughly examine its feasibility because a convention centre by itself is not a magic panacea for tourism growth.
The Sunshine Coast is a highly desirable destination for business events, and when the Hyatt Coolum was operating we were able to attract many prestigious conferences, including CHOGM in 2002. Our proximity and ease of access from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne is a massive advantage, and the airport’s new runway will provide the opportunity to attract regular direct services from Asia and the Pacific.
We also have a magnificent landscape and our ‘naturally refreshing’ image resonates strongly with conference organisers, but the lack of a dedicated convention centre and suitable hotel accommodation has really constrained our progress in recent years.
However, there is far more to attracting high-yielding conference business than just constructing a large building.
We have just hosted the Australian Association of Convention Bureaux conference with all the major city convention teams represented. The issues raised during the conference highlight that while the rewards are high for securing major conferences and events, so are the resources required to win and deliver that business.
The business case study will need to examine a number of factors. For instance, what is the best size and design for a convention centre that will be constantly in demand and deliver a financial return to the region?
It also should not be seen in isolation. What accommodation infrastructure will be required to enable the Centre to attract large-scale residential conferences? Will the Centre be complemented by a vibrant restaurant and entertainment quarter? And what services will be needed to make such a venue deliver the highest possible experience?
There is sometimes a feeling that all you have to do is “build it and they will come”. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Just as with the airport, the proposal needs to be based solidly on examining the potential demand, our competitive advantages, and our capabilities of being able to compete in what is often a ferocious market.
This is a fantastic first step, but if it is to be a giant leap for the Sunshine Coast, then the case study will need to address the tough issues.