Cairns: facelift for the future

There may have been no international events to host lately but Cairns is using the time well to prepare for a big comeback next year. Angela Antrobus discovers what’s been happening in this tropical paradise 

 Where to start? Cairns Convention Centre is being expanded and refurbished, Cairns Airport has completed a major terminal upgrade, and new hotels and venues continue to open apace 

Meanwhile, Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef (BECGR) has realigned its brand to underline the region’s advantages as a meetings destination and how it competes on the world stage with much larger cities. In a post-pandemic world, its modest size will surely be an advantage. 

“We are working towards welcoming international delegates back in 2022 and have received a number of enquiries,” says Rosie DouglasBECGR general manager. She says organisers can be confident of holding events very safely in Cairns. “Delegates can walk in ten minutes or less to the convention centre, hotels and offsite venues so don’t need to use public transport or taxis. Our small population means delegates are not exposed to large numbers of people in crowded spaces and our tropical climate means that events can be held outdoors rather than indoors.” 

The A$176 million upgrade of Cairns Convention Centre is being delivered in two stages. It shut last April and since then the existing auditorium, arena and meeting rooms have been refurbished. Now work is underway on a 10,500 sqm extension, opening next year. 

The CCC’s new external entry

“The centre is over 24 years old and the demand for national and international conferences has always been high,” says general manager Janet Hamilton. “No additional space has been added since the arena in 1999 and it’s important for the region’s growth that we have the ability to host larger conferences or several at once. It’s also important that the centre is upgraded with the latest technology, especially now with hybrid events becoming integral to moving forward out of the pandemic.” 

The extension has been designed to bring more of the region’s tropical environment inside and the inspiration for the centre’s new façade is the Wet Tropics Rainforest, the region’s oldest living rainforest. A new logo has been created to represent both the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, both World Heritage listed sites. 

It will add a large, undercover, tropically planted forecourt and expanded main entry lobby, three 110-seat meeting rooms. a 410-seat plenary lecture space and exhibition space for up to 30 booths. The new rooftop Trinity level will feature a 500-seat banquet/multifunctional space with adjoining pre-function space and external terrace with views over the Trinity Inlet. The entire centre will hold 2,500 delegates comfortably while the refurbished arena takes up to 5,000.  

Hamilton says they are getting ready to host first events next month, working through Covid Safe planning to ensure the safety of guests, contractors and staff. The AV team has been putting together technology solutions for the delivery of virtual solutions and hybrid events and the culinary services team has been working with local suppliers to develop a new menu based on regional produce to give delegates a taste of the tropics. 

At the same time, with an eye on future international business, the centre has been researching events that previously may have been too large for it to accommodate and to identify academics and specialists in specific industries. The Cairns region has experts across a range of industries including agribusiness, aviation, tropical health, marine services, renewable energy, education, tourism and life sciences.  

The redeveloped Cairns Convention Centre

“When developing international bids, we work closely with Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef as well as Tourism Events Queensland and Business Events Australia,” Hamilton explains. “It’s important that the conferences we bid for not only support the region from a visitor perspective but also provide opportunities to enhance it in other areas such as bringing international experts to Cairns or have links to potential projects to promote economic and cultural development.” 

Some events are already in the bag. In July next year, 600 or so delegates are expected at the 13th International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology. Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou of the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Victoria, was passionate about bringing the event to Australia for the first time. “The idea for Australia to host the congress was introduced at the 2016 meeting in Washington DC,” she saysI liaised directly with Cairns Convention Centre and other sites for the bid and conducted all the site inspections. I presented my reports to the executive committee at the 2019 meeting in Prague and Cairns was chosen unanimously. 

“It’s an ideal destination due to its biodiversity, relaxing vibes and affordable accommodation. The convention centre is modern and spacious with affluent natural light and ocean views and the extension plans significantly influenced the decision.” 

She hopes the event will attract students and early career researchers from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Pacific islands who have not been able to attend past meetings in the USA and Europe. “The highlight will certainly be the convention centre and its close proximity to hospitality venues,” she adds. She also believes that the adventure trips to the reef, rainforest and other indigenous sites organised by Tourism Tropical North Queensland will guarantee delegates stay on in Cairns after the conference to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of North Queensland”. 

The triennial International Congress on Plant Molecular Biology was postponed from this year and will take place in late October 2022. The bid was mounted by a group of 60 plant scientists led by Associate Professor Joshua Mylne from the University of Western Australia and won in 2018. “The support and collaboration of the Cairns Convention Centre together with Federal and State Government backing was pivotal in helping us to secure this congress which will increase the international profile of our Australian scientists and deliver significant outcomes for the agricultural sector,” he says. 

In September 2023, a global symposium of the International Council on Large Electric Systems (CIGRE) will be held at the centre, hosted by CIGRE Australia, one of the 60 national committees underpinning the CIGRE community.  

Hamilton adds, “We feel very positive about the future and will continue to keep in touch with our overseas clients so when borders open we will be ready to visit and engage once they have the confidence to bring their conference to Cairns.” 


Kylie Brand, Business Development Manager                                                                                                      Business Events Cairns & Great Barrier Reef                                                                                                        T: +617 4015 1239 E: 

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