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AustraliaISSUE 66 / ConfErEnCE & MEEtIngS World / 37separately to Adelaide in South Australia (where the Adelaide Convention Centre has announced an AUD$350m expansion project; to Melbourne in Victoria where the six green star-rated Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre is also expanding its award winning facilities) and to Brisbane in Queensland (where an AUD$40m expansion of the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre is near completion). One group forged deep into the Northern Territory interior to see Alice Springs and Uluru (Ayers Rock). This trip involved a guided tour by an Aboriginal elder through rock art galleries and camel trekking through the desert sands. Perth, Cairns and the Gold Coast were also on some agendas, before the visitors all gathered in Sydney with the Australian hosts and ustralians enjoy the second highest quality of life after Norway, according to the United Nations and Sydney was again voted the World's Best City by Conde Naste Traveller readers in 2011.The country has continued to grow its economy in the face of ongoing global recession and this growth is spurring new infrastructure projects, with Sydney and Brisbane following Melbourne's example and investing big in expanding their convention centre complexes and meetings infrastructure.The only cloud on the horizon would appear to be a gathering threat from the strengthening Australian dollar, that has made the country a bit more expensive than before for most inbound travellers.Seventy-two international buyers, planners, agents and selected media from the UK, Asia, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and North America were flown Down Under by national flag carrier Qantas to see for themselves during the Tourism Australia Dreamtime 2011 programme at the end of last year. The week-long visit showcased the best of the country's broad range of incentive and meeting experiences. A final leg in Sydney, was an opportunity for the buyers and planners to get updated on central and state government plans for investment and development in the Australian MICE sector, as well as VIP opportunities to network Australia's meetings industry elite.Before getting to meet the men and women from the ministries, the Dreamtime groups set out on site inspection trips to some of the top destination attractions on the largest island on Earth.The international groups travelled As a diverse country packed with unique experiences, there's nothing like Australiatourism AustrAliA Ceo Andrew mCevoy AAbove: Views of the Whitsundays are a powerful incentive

38 / ConferenCe & Meetings World / issUe 66Australia74Above: the UK's daydream believers in the Whitsundaysislands in the Whitsundaysorganisers for the keynote Sydney showcase and tours of the city.Representatives from Australia's 13 convention bureaux were on hand during all the group tours to smooth the passage and introduce leading suppliers and incentive experiences to the international buyers and planners.The Chief Executive of Australia Tourism, Andrew McEvoy, explained the logic of the Dreamtime programme: "As a diverse country packed with unique experiences, there is no better way to showcase why there's nothing like Australia than by offering a hands-on experience such as Dreamtime. "Australia provides business event and team-based activities in diverse landscapes and settings that are unrivalled by other countries - such as dining under the stars at Uluru or snorkelling in the world's largest reef system - the Great Barrier Reef." Dreamtime offered international guests, said McEvoy, "the opportunity to view first-hand Australia's commitment to delivering world-class events through ongoing investments to technology and infrastructure".Wonderful WhitsundaysQueensland's Whitsunday Islands were the first stop for the nine-strong UK group which flew in to Hayman Island via Brisbane.The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Not all are inhabited and the main resort accommodation is on Hayman, Hamilton and Daydream Islands.The Whitsundays, which only have a population of 33,000, are ideal for incentives and exclusive top end smaller meetings hire, although there are venues able to cater for up to 1,000 delegates and 6,000 rooms in a diverse range of accommodation.At Hayman Island Resort you can open a treasure trove of water sports and beach-based activities, including snorkelling with turtles, windsurfing and sailing. After a hard morning on the beach, there is golf and tennis, or spa therapies to enjoy.Experience the chef's table, where award-winning creations from ice and chocolate are served up. Visit also the famous Hayman Chocolate Room and put back all the calories lost during the day.The UK group's sample itinerary took the team, first by sea plane, to Whitehaven beach and its silica sand. The beach has been voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world. The plane flew over Heart Reef and provided spectacular close up views of many other reefs. Flights were by Air Whitsunday, the largest seaplane operator in the Southern Hemisphere. The company offers a fleet of luxury Cessna Caravans and classic de Havilland Beaver bush planes for private charter. But, take my advice, and taper your enthusiasm when leaping down into the shallows from the seaplane: hold on to your camera!Air Whitsunday also offers a semi-submersible to take up to 22 passengers to experience the underwater wonder of the Great Barrier Reef.Hayman Island Resort and Hamilton Island's Qualia resort are pure luxury. Qualia is, as its Latin name suggests, a deep sensory experience, with an elegant Long Pavilion (with spectacular views), two exclusive restaurants and luxury spa - our group hopped over by helicopter, but the family-owned resort has its own exclusive 45ft luxury cruise vessel.On Qualia the Long Pavilion is a stunning venue for dinner or receptions. Within 12 hours in the Whitsundays I had fed a wallaby, stroked a stingray, touched a shark and held a koala. And, no, cork hats weren't compulsory.Daydream Island does offer value accommodation in its theme park and our group tried out the alfresco lunch option on the beach (see main image).There are no budget views in the