The Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre opened ten years ago, and has helped ensure southeast Queensland punches above its weight in the scale and quality of events it attracts. In an interview with The Siteseer, Adrienne Readings, the first woman to be appointed general manager of a convention centre in Australia, looks back on a tumultuous decade and reveals how her facility provides the kind of value that keeps clients coming back.
Adrienne Readings: Five-star-quality service. We’re the biggest venue for business events on the coast but being biggest hasn’t made us complacent; quite the opposite. We’re in a competitive hospitality region and know our service has to be world-class so, as a business, we challenge ourselves daily and focus on continuously improving the venue. I believe that’s why we’ve established a strong reputation and developed a solid repeat portfolio. To put it into perspective, two of the past three years have been our best in profitability and cost control.
Our state as a whole performs well against some better-known locations or bigger cities. The fact that we can attract world conferences and win conference bids against some of them tells me we’re doing something right. Indeed we’ve emerged as a serious business events destination and venue that attracts thousands of delegates and delivers an ingredient that sets us apart. Twenty-seven of the original 130 team members, myself included, have been here since opening.
SS: How many visitors have you hosted?
AR: More than two million, who’ve injected about $1.6 billion into the local economy. We average more than 160 business events a year, generating 350,000 delegate days. And we’ve got a broad audience market – from conferences, banquets, consumer shows and concerts through to televised sporting events.
We’ve had the likes of UB40, Pink, Rihanna, the National Final Rodeo, ASP World Surfing Awards and the Supanova Pop Culture Expo that attracts close to 30,000 fans a year. The Centre is also home to big expos including those of Mitre 10, Subway and Bakers Delight, as well as Microsoft.
AR: There was a lot of excitement when the state’s third convention centre was built! It increased the region’s event capacity sixfold and opened up opportunities, and of course the community welcomed us with open arms. There’s no doubt it’s aided the Gold Coast in attracting conferences that would have otherwise gone elsewhere.
The centre also brought a lot of employment to the region, not just to itself but to businesses that have benefited from the visitors and events we attract. We work collaboratively with industry and the Broadbeach precinct to market the whole destination. What’s good for the Gold Coast is good for us.
SS: Any event recently about which you and your colleagues are especially proud?
AR: They all differ but some are more complex or pose more challenges logistically. Transitioning from a conference to multiple concurrent sessions, from a trade exhibition to a basketball court overnight or from rodeo to a special event are things we do every day. For me our greatest achievement is receiving the trust and respect of large corporations and the people we work with closely.
But take the annual IGA-Metcash Supermarket Expo. It attracts 3,000 delegates and the client uses up every square metre of our exhibition space by turning it into a supermarket. It grows in size each year. Many of our team, from IT to AV and operations, work on it months in advance to make it a success. It was our first major client and we’re proud they’ve kept coming back for 10 years.
SS: You’ve been quoted in the past as saying events organisers seek high-end technology and a specially tailored product. How are you meeting those requirements?
AR: Staying relevant and fresh is key. It’s obviously vital to keep abreast of the latest trends and provide the best infrastructure and technology. So we regularly audit our resources to ensure we can meet the demands of an ever-changing market.
Our current priority is to ensure we reinvest in the product so everything including our service stays at a benchmarked level. We’ve upgraded our bandwidth and wi-fi capabilities in recent years, and our next priority is to ensure our technology is ahead of its time. That will allow us to think ahead strategically about future events, because IT and AV are essential components in this process. We receive great feedback on our food and service which tells me we’re meeting our clients’ needs here.
AR: There are some things that can’t be quantified. Some of our longstanding clients say the reason they come back time and time again is, of course, value for money but, more importantly, [they say] it’s for tailored service money can’t buy.
What does that mean in practical terms? One simple rule is we ask clients what their goals are and how we can contribute to their success. In addition our team members say hello to everyone they meet, they help clients feel at home, research how we can make a meal exceptional, and really pay attention to the finest details so customers feel looked after like nowhere else. Our current tagline is ‘love is in the details,’ and the little things make all the difference. We take a similar approach with suppliers. We work well together because our goals are similar.
Value is also embodied in services that event organisers love, like free wi-fi for more than 2,000 concurrent internet users, although this is becoming more and more standard now. When we introduced this two years ago we were one of the first convention centres to do it. We were the first facility of its kind in the world to offer EarthCheck Gold certification, which ensures we operate to the highest environmental standard. Again this can’t be quantified but it’s a contributing factor to why some prefer our venue.
SS: Tell us about your ‘linkage’ program.
AR: We piloted the Linkage Grant Program which aims to support academics and professionals who are prepared to participate in their trade or professional association and nurture future convention hosts who will bid for conventions for the Gold Coast. The program serves a twofold purpose – to attract more international business events to the centre while benefiting six potential grant recipients who each get $5,000 to fund expenses. The program attracted double the number of applications this year, and we awarded four grants. International conferences have long lead times, of up to five years or more, so the recipients may be working on attracting events years away. The program is an investment in the future, and our community.
AR: Competition is our biggest challenge. There’s a lot more of it because people over the years have come to realise the value of business events. Our best strategy is to continue working with national industry bodies and regionally with partners like Gold Coast Business Events to raise our profile. We must also attract international market opportunities through joint trade shows and business exchange sessions in the Asia Pacific.
The ever-increasing trend for larger space and concurrent sessions for conventions means that as a venue we’ll need to become larger. Big events require a lot of concurrent spaces; we need more space because we’re losing those. There’s definitely a growing need, once again, to expand but that’s up to the owners, the state government. Expanding would be a great legacy for the Gold Coast on the back of securing the Commonwealth Games.
SS: What must be done by the industry and regulators to ensure a bright future?
AR: Funding for business events and a better understanding in the greater community and government of the immense of value of business events are essential. But the Business Events Council of Australia does a great job helping persuade the Commonwealth Government to increase its support for attracting international conventions and exhibitions.
Reporting on the benefits and flow-on effect that business events generally have for destinations is important in raising our profile and creating awareness. If we can continue to prove our case we can use our industry position to further increase support and ensure a bright future.
Recent day delegate package – AUD69 per person