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by Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Founder, SoolNua Marketing

Sydney, a true destination

Sydney is not a first-tier global hub like London, Dubai or Singapore.

There’s simply not enough international traffic going in and out of the city. It’s an offline city, too physically far from London, Paris, or New York to have direct connectivity.

While news is instantaneous in our digital age, the massive time lag means Sydney is always ahead, causing the city to march to the beat of its own drum and live in a kind of splendid isolation from the rest of the planet.

Sydney is a place where you intentionally decide to go, a point of final arrival, a destination in the truest sense of the word.

Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) in Sydney

For SITE’s international board of directors (IBOD) from San Francisco, New Delhi, Toronto, Chicago, Sao Paolo, Dublin, Cairo, Calgary, London and Cannes it was a hike and a half to get there. Only one director, Marissa Fernandez, a local, wasn’t constantly jetlagged. The rest of us were sleepless in Sydney, ingesting tasty room drop treats at 3am and then dozing off mid-meeting as budgets were being presented!

The antidote to jetlag

Micheal Dalton and I touched down late afternoon in time to attend a wonderful “get to know each other” event hosted at the Zephyr Rooftop Bar by Gavin Maloney and his wonderful team of the Hyatt Regency Sydney, our truly gracious home for the duration of the IBOD meeting. With eye-watering views of Darling Harbour, the ICC Sydney and its supporting hotel properties (there’s a bunch of ACCOR hotels and a brand new W, currently the biggest W by guest room count in the world), we began our Sydney sojourn with a real sense of place.

The sure antidote to jetlag is to rise early and run, and so it came to pass. We were taken to Mrs McQuarrie’s Chair and watched a spectacular Sydney sunrise as we tackled the 5km coastal path back to the hotel via Barangaroo, a new 15-acre urban development with nature reserve in Sydney Harbour.

A intense day of meetings was followed by a discovery experience at the storied Sydney Opera House where we received an insider’s briefing on a fascinating historical narrative involving huge technical challenges, massive budget over-runs, political meddling, and finally the humiliation and eventual redemption of Jørn Utzon, the Danish creative genius who won the architectural competition to design the building.

Jumping aboard a water taxi, we navigated the harbour to REVY, a beautifully restored early 20th century heritage building now serving as one of the intimate event spaces at Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf. The Doltone House team received us with a truly impactful First Nations’ welcome courtesy of Aunty Margret Campbell, an educator and lifelong campaigner for aboriginal rights.

Aunty Margret’s welcome was the precursor to a fascinating culinary immersion in indigenous ingredients prepared by Mark Olive, the award winning First Nation’s chef and a most entertaining and engaging dinner conversation with Cate Banfield, Marcella Zuniga and the debonair Robin Mack from Tourism Australia. The impressive evolution and expansion of the Doltone House venue collection was also presented to us.

The 5km Dawn Dash

The next day, I joined a dawn dash of early morning locals for a run up and down the multifarious wharfs, piers and marinas that form Sydney Harbour. Like Vancouver and Auckland, Sydney is all about the outdoors, surrounded by maritime architectural heritage, concrete, glass and steel on one side, rolling swells and seas on the other.

Following another day of intense meetings, we were transported to the Rocks area for the Harbour Bridge Climb, a veritable bucket list experience. It’s a three-hour activity, all told, involving about an hour’s preparation during which you don the special overalls, harnesses, and miscellaneous equipment.

We set off with Jake our guide who had a routine of hilarious one-liners, all delivered with the perfect timing of a skilled comedian (like, for instance, the metal riveters who had “a truly riveting time”). He expertly memorised all our names – including the difficult ones like Pádraic – kept us entertained and safe, and took wonderful pictures of us as we scaled the dizzy heights to the twin flags at the apex of the bridge. Orget Sadiku and his saxphone awaited us there with random renditions of Italian tarantelle, gifting us the satisfaction of being able to say we had sax on top of the harbour bridge. Boom, boom!

Thanks to our gracious partner Colette Baini, we also had sax on a super yacht later that evening with the same Orget, this time accompanied by a high octane DJ. Departing from the wharf adjacent to our hotel, we anchored in the harbour somewhere between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, enveloped by VIVID, a drone and light show that attracts visitors to Sydney during winter. Orget was quick to spot the singing talent in our midst and we soon discovered the mellifluous tones of Dallas Lyons and current SITE President, Karim el Minabawy.

Education at Campbell’s Stores

Could there be more? Well, yes! An engaging morning of education at the delectable Campbell’s Stores with around 80 of the business events community of Sydney led to more time on the harbour as we undertook a wonderful team building exercise with Aaron from Sydney by Sail. One thing is certain: pit SITE IBOD members against each other, and you’ll have a hard-fought contest! Thankfully there was no sabotage and all vessels returned safely to harbour!

And competition defined the final evening too as the truly amazing team at the Hyatt Regency came up with another creative way of engaging and entertaining us. A seating plan ensured the perfect mix of IBOD and locals at each table, and then Chef Sven Ullrich – a German chef with the heart of a lunatic Irishman – assigned roles to each of us, giving us each responsibilities in terms of food choice, service and presentation. We enjoyed a wonderfully informal, interactive evening of great food including some wonderful oysters, spectacular rack of lamb and the truly memorable Mount Pleasant Pinot Noir from the Hunter Valley.

So, yes, it’s a long flight. And yes, there’s a huge time difference but Sydney is a place that builds and bridges culture and cultures, off line by location, perhaps, but decisively on target for the sheer quality and uniqueness of the experience. Sydney is a true incentive destination.

Pádraic Gilligan is co-founder of SoolNua with Patrick Delaney and serves as Chief Marketing Officer of SITE.

10 things we did in Sydney

Zephyr Rooftop Bar Event: Hosted by the Hyatt Regency Sydney, with views of Darling Harbour and ICC Sydney.

Early Morning Run: Coastal path run from Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair to Barangaroo, witnessing a spectacular sunrise.

Sydney Opera House Tour: Insider’s briefing on the history and architecture of the iconic building.

Water Taxi Ride to REVY: Visit to a restored early 20th-century heritage building, Doltone House, Jones Bay Wharf.

First Nations’ Welcome and Culinary Experience: Indigenous welcome by Aunty Margaret Campbell and a culinary immersion with chef Mark Olive at Doltone House.

Harbour Bridge Climb: Guided climb with spectacular views and a saxophone performance at the top.

Super Yacht Cruise: Evening cruise with a DJ and saxophonist Orget Sadiku, viewing the VIVID light show.

Team Building with Sydney by Sail: Sailing exercise on Sydney Harbour with competitive team activities.

Educational Morning at Campbell’s Stores: Engaging sessions with the business events community of Sydney.

Interactive Dining Experience: Creative food choice and service roles during a dinner at the Hyatt Regency.


7 thoughts on “Building & Bridging Cultures with SITE in Sydney

  1. Mr Wayne Wallgren CIS, CITP says:

    An informative read, as always.

  2. Anne Wallin Rødven says:

    What an adventure, Pádraic! Thank you for sharing your impressions of wonderful Sydney☺️

    1. padraicino says:

      Hi Anne – thanks for reading! Can you imagine after more than three decades in this industry I had never been to Sydney? (made it to Auckland in NZ and to Perth in WA but not to one of the world’s most amazing cities!)

  3. Evelyn O'Sullivan says:

    Great read Padraic. Really interesting angle you present on Sydney.

    1. padraicino says:

      Hi Ev … it’s an amazing city. It has everything. The infrastructure around the newly re-built ICCSydney is truly amazing. A conference city at its most successful!

  4. Gisele Robert says:

    This was a joy to read! Thanks Padraic for sharing all the itinerary highlights! Good on ya mate! #SITE

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Gisele – there’s little piece of Sydney beating in my heart!

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