Adelaide Convention Centre has undergone a complete transformation over the past six years, culminating in the opening of its slick new East Wing in September last year. In the new year, Simon Burgess was promoted to general manager, after serving five years as director of convention and exhibition sales.
Since taking over the top job, Burgess has overseen a review and upgrade of the centre’s cyber security, made a significant investment in its WiFi capabilities and has just launched a new mindful-inspired menu drawing on the state’s incredible local produce.
CEI talks to Burgess about what’s happening at the centre, the big changes unfolding across the city, and what’s in it for Asia-Pacific planners.
What industries are specifically of interest for Adelaide and the centre?
The largest segment of our conference business is medical, and in particular biomedical and life sciences. It always has been, but now next door to us is BioMed City, which is the largest biomedical and life sciences precinct in the southern hemisphere.
This includes the South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, which underpins all the research work going on, and also the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia.
It’s quite a combination. There’s a steady supply of speakers available in terms of the researchers and the leadership in the organisation, the number of students attending can help with participation and then there’s the opportunity for groups to tour the facilities and see the research work that's going on first-hand simply by walking next door.
Our medical business has increased and now occupies 30 to 40% of our business.
Outside of that, defence has been a key industry for us. Education has grown over the years and we're a farming community here in South Australia so agriculture is another area that's very important to us.
Resources and mining, plus South Australia is reinventing from a traditional manufacturing base to advanced manufacturing, innovation biotechnical biomedical elements and ICT elements as well. That's something that the State Government is very keen to develop and we’ve got incubator hubs and start-up areas specifically designed for us to transition into these new industries.
How does the centre fit within the surrounding riverbank precinct? And what other redevelopment is going on?
We’re estimating between A$5-8 billion dollars (US$3.7 to 5.9 billion) in terms of infrastructure that has gone into the riverbank precinct. And it’s all accessible.
We’re in the conference zone, which is right in the heart of it. Directly across from us is the Sports & Leisure Zone including the Adelaide Oval, which is a venue in its own right. Quite often people will conference here and then take dinner across the bridge at the Oval, which is a fun thing to do.
We also have Adelaide Casino in the process of redevelopment. They’ve started work on a A$350 million (US$260 million) rejuvenation, which will include a luxury hotel, 14 different restaurants and more, so that's going to be a big draw and will really add to the destination appeal.
Adelaide Festival Centre is also undergoing A$90 million (US$66 million) in renovation at the moment. They actually run an OzAsia festival and they’re happy to run specific shows or specific things for delegates to actually join in the festival.
What else does Adelaide offer to Asia-Pacific delegates?
In Adelaide we’re a clean, green, and safe environment – as much as anywhere can say that now. I think that when people come down, especially from Asia, they find it’s a well laid-out city and very easy to get around. We're a walking conference destination.
We've got 3,500 rooms almost across the street from us and certainly within five minutes’ walk, and we’re 10 minutes’ walk from downtown. We’ve also got very good flight connections into the key hubs including direct flights to Hong Kong, Singapore, KL and Guangzhou. It's quite an attractive mix.
Outside of the main conferencing, one of the things that really appeals to visitors from Asia in particular is our seafood – Eyre Peninsula, Coffin Bay oysters, Spencer Gulf king prawns – we’ve hosted World Aquaculture here because we are the seafood capital of Australia.
Also the wildlife. If you visit Adelaide, within 20 minutes you're in the Adelaide Hills pretty much cuddling a koala or seeing kangaroos – a must-see for any international delegate. Asian visitors also really enjoy the close proximity of the beaches. Again, in 20 minutes you’re down at Glenelg, a clean city beach that’s relatively deserted. The nearby wine regions are also a big draw.
How did the new menu come about?
At the end of all the construction we took a deep breath and thought “Great we’re launched!”, but then “What’s next?”. We turned our attention toward our menus. There’s been a lot of public discourse about mindful eating and we’d also recently hosted the Asian Obesity Conference and the 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Clinical Nutrition.
Those particular organisers had their own requests because it’s their field. For two years we’ve had an optional vitality menu, but we wanted to revitalise that.
With us having a strong base of medical conferencing, we decided to work with SAHMRI next door as they’ve got a nutrition and metabolism unit. Through the process we came up with a complete new menu called ‘Honest Goodness’: basically feel good, whole food, made fresh.
Minimal intervention, a reduction in salt, sugar and preservatives, and letting the ingredients be the hero. We’re lucky to have the produce we do in South Australia so we let that do the talking.
A sample menu item is braised beef cheek with sweet potato mousseline, grilled root vegetables and black pepper sauce for dinner or pineapple carpaccio, lime syrup coconut gelato and mint oil for dessert. You can still get alcohol, you can still get dessert, but it’s all about portion control and providing organisers with the knowledge that whatever they select is relatively good for their delegates.
Of course if anybody asks for pies and pasties we’ll still do that, we’re a commercial operation in all senses of the word, but what we're hoping is that people will see the alternatives that are already on the menu and then make selections from there.