High international flight costs are seeing many groups looking closer to home, and Cairns and Queensland’s tropical north is one destination that is ticking all the boxes for EAs planning meetings and incentives. Brad Foster explains why…
Picture this: your annual corporate retreat is less than six months away and your CEO was considering an offshore destination. In your multi-faceted role, you gathered some quotes on the flights and those alone blew the event budget. This is where your experience and strong negotiation skills will have to come to the fore. But first, you need an alternative.
Thankfully, Australia and New Zealand are blessed with some drop-dead gorgeous destinations that won’t break the bank or the budget – and Cairns in tropical north Queensland is definitely one of those.
What’s even better is that during the pandemic period the region’s leading venue operators improved, revitalised, primped and preened their products to beyond world-class standards… You just know that will sit comfortably with the high-end desires of your corporate group, don’t you?
And, in this region, you’ll be visiting a naturally pristine playground (sandwiched between the Great Barrier Reef and the wet tropical rainforest) that’ll fit perfectly with your company’s growing focus on sustainability and good environmental management.
Five-star hotels and resorts line the waterfront of Cairns, Palm Cove, Port Douglas, and its islands and here you’ll find genuine connections to nature are encouraged, as well as genuine connections to each other. Visitors can create memorable moments in the oldest rainforest, choose their own adventure on the largest coral reef and learn from two local Indigenous cultures.
Let’s meet in Port Douglas
Just one hour by road from Cairns (or a lot faster if your exec’s budget extends to a helicopter transfer!) Port Douglas is a relaxed seaside village with some of the best resort-style hotels in the country.
It has a beautiful main thoroughfare full of stylish restaurants, bars and boutique shops, and includes a marina that allows you to quickly hop onto a vessel of your choosing and head out to the reef.
One of the most stunning resorts in the area is Silky Oaks Lodge, which underwent a $20 million refurbishment in 2022. This retreat is enveloped within the rainforest and offers river drift snorkelling on the Mossman River, barefoot lunches (dipping your toes in the pristine water is pure joy) and cocktail parties on the spectacular outdoor Daintree Pavilion.
The Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort Port Douglas is the grand dame of this destination. It’s big, beautiful and – thanks to a multi-million renovation a few years ago – the envy of all its neighbours. It fronts the sea and offers dozens of meeting and event spaces of all sizes and configurations – not to mention the pool, which provides plenty of space for stunning evening cocktail parties or gala dinners with a true tropical feel.
Another popular property is Thala Beach Nature Reserve. Here, you’ll feel like you are suspended in the treetops, with utmost privacy for all guests. A short walk from the main lodge will have you barefoot on the sand of a private beach where cocktails and dinner can be enjoyed under the stars with lanterns adorning swaying palm trees.
A little R&R
If recharging and connection with colleagues is a must then Port Douglas is just perfect. Visitors can take a guided Dreamtime walk with an Indigenous guide through the Mossman Gorge with a welcome smoking ceremony included. You can also view ancient rock art, learn more about traditional rainforest medicine, experience a private art session with an Indigenous artist and, if time permits, cool off in the stunning Mossman River.
A special experience for groups to Port Douglas is the award-winning Flames of the Forest dinner right in the heart of the rainforest. Guests will be enthralled as they travel into the wilderness before arriving at a clearing lit by candles and attentive staff. This venue can be hired exclusively and is sure to be a highlight of your clients’ Port Douglas visit.
Back in town, one of the most spectacular venues for sunset cocktails is the heritage-listed Sugar Wharf, which juts out over the Coral Sea. Be sure to check out other unique experiences, too. How does a traditional dinner under the stars on a working cane farm sound? Or breakfast on a deserted island before diving into the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef to view the colourful coral and fish life?
Cairns captures more than the imagination
Many visitors to Cairns hardly venture beyond its city limits and when you’re there it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a city that’s tailor-made for relaxing, refreshing and reconnecting. Unwinding before or after a meeting is easy, with many resorts including exclusive lounges – check out the waterside Shangri-La Horizon Club and the Hilton Executive Club.
The Crystalbrook Collection and its three centrally-located hotels have helped raise the bar of quality accommodation in the region since opening in the past few years, and the Pullman Reef View Hotel continues to maintain its high-end status. One look at its stunning rooftop pool deck overlooking the city is hands-down James Bond-style luxe.
Experiencing Cairns beyond the resort walls, especially in an evening, is oh-so-easy, with options including dinner in the oceanarium, dining from the decks on freshly caught seafood onboard the Prawn Star vessel and taking over a hidden laneway bar for a pre-dinner gin masterclass with a local distiller.
Further afield, a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures for lunch or dinner is a great option, as is dinner within the walls of an old World War Two oil storage tank. It has been repurposed and caters to corporate meeting and incentive travel reward groups.
This organisation offers free assistance for planning events in the tropical north and even has some sample itinerary ideas.