40 years on: A new era for business events in Brisbane

40 years on from the establishment of Brisbane’s first visitors and convention bureau, Brisbane Marketing’s General Manager of Business Events, Juliet Alabaster, looks back on some key milestones and discusses where to now.


Brisbane is clearly a different city to what it was 40 years ago. With $12 billion worth of tourism related infrastructure underway, it will be very different in five years’ time, let alone another 40.

As we celebrate four decades since the original Brisbane Visitors and Convention Bureau was formed in 1978, it is timely to look back at some of the key milestones that have helped change perceptions of Brisbane as an events and tourism destination.

Not long after the bureau was established, the 1982 Commonwealth Games and World Expo 88 both put Brisbane in the global spotlight and our city would be forever changed by the associated investment in infrastructure.

Expo 88 paved the way for the development of South Bank, which is now a favourite destination for tourists and conference delegates thanks to its position by the Brisbane River, its rich entertainment and dining offerings, and peaceful parklands.

South Bank also became the location of the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC), which transformed Brisbane’s ability to bid for and host major conferences when it opened in 1995.

The bureau then merged into the city’s economic development board Brisbane Marketing in 2000, fourteen years ahead of the 2014 G20 Leaders Summit, which allowed Brisbane to showcase its ability to safely and successfully host a global political event of such magnitude.

I’m often asked what impact new major developments such as Howard Smith Wharves, Queen’s Wharf, the Brisbane Quarter, the International Cruise Ship Terminal and Brisbane Airport’s new parallel runway will have on our city’s business events sector.

What is so fantastic is that we are already seeing the impact of new investment, especially with the surge of four and five-star hotel openings. This year alone we’ve welcomed the Novotel South Bank, W Brisbane, Emporium South Bank, Adina Apartment Hotel Brisbane, The Calile and The Westin Brisbane.

This is changing perceptions in a way that would normally take much longer. Rather than asking people if they have considered Brisbane, we now have people enthusiastically telling us what they have seen and heard about our city.

We are experiencing an exciting new era of business events, which was recently backed by Brisbane Marketing delivering its biggest financial year on record in terms of the value of conferences we’ve secured with key partners such as the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Brisbane’s wider business events sector is worth over $257 million annually, and we continue to see the many flow-on benefits to the local tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as generating investment opportunities and being a catalyst for important knowledge exchange.

Overall tourism to Brisbane is at a record high, with 1.4 million international visitors coming to our city in the year to June 2018.

China, our leading international visitor market, grew by 25 per cent to 259,000 in this time, while overall international visitor expenditure grew by 15.7 per cent to an all-time high of $2.5 billion – a growth three times the national average.

There’s an undeniable positivity and confidence in Brisbane today, and with a city-wide focus on expanding our tourism offering, the time is now right to raise our profile as a destination for large incentive groups.

Taking advantage of Brisbane’s rising popularity, particularly while markets such as China are open to international travel and are generally viewing Australia more favourably, is a priority as we stake a claim in the competitive incentives market.

We are already bidding on conference and incentive opportunities to take place after the 2022 opening of Queen’s Wharf, which will be the icing on the cake in terms of elevating Brisbane’s New World City status.

However, the biggest factor that will continue work in our favour is the way we do business here in Brisbane. The overwhelming feedback we receive from clients comes down to our Team Brisbane approach; the way our city genuinely works together to achieve great outcomes.

That’s something you can’t buy, and will stand Brisbane in good stead for another 40 years of success.