FOLLOWING months of preparation, Brisbane’s historic CBD riverside venue Customs House has witnessed a steady rise in enquires for same-sex marriages, accelerating since legislation late last year.

“The community is still cautious, however pent-up demand from the LGBTIQ community will certainly drive gains across hospitality, arts and recreation, retail and professional services in the first half of this year,” Customs House director Brian Roberts predicted. 

According to Mr Roberts, Customs House’s staging of the upcoming Wedding Showcase on February 7 is part of its celebration of LGBTIQ diversity in the wedding industry. 

“Customs House not only offers traditional charm but also creativity and flexibility as our point of difference with weddings for all committed couples,” Mr Roberts said.

 “We have seen a growing trend for individuality and creativity as an early trend with enquiries from same-sex weddings so far.

“Smaller guest lists, more intimate affairs – selective and spoilt – that is certainly a hot trend for 2018,” Mr Roberts said.

“The average guest list has been between 110 and 130 guests for a reception and we’re starting to see guest counts closer to 70-90 guests.

“Couples are opting to invite fewer guests and spend those extra dollars on more personal touches and unique experience for their guests,” Mr Roberts said.

Bracing for the demand in individuality and creativity for all couples considering an upcoming wedding, Customs House will stage The One – which he described as “a refreshing alternative to the traditional wedding expo” – showcasing a handpicked collection of sought-after vendors from the wedding industry participating in an exclusive bells-and-whistles soiree at Customs House.

The annual Wedding Showcase on February 7 from 5.30pm to 8pm, is designed to offer a unique opportunity for all wedding parties including brides, grooms and same-sex couples to celebrate marriage equality. Guests will be able to sample wines and canapes, meet experts of the industry and view current trends and styles of catering.

“The wedding industry needs to adjust to avoid putting off potential clients and coming across as an inclusive industry,” Mr Roberts said. 


CHINA is now Australia’s largest inbound tourism market – plus a major outbound and business travel market – so the rise of mobile payments platform Alipay cannot be understated. Alipay is now bigger than PayPal.

Alipay is now promoting what it calls ‘smart tourism’ with global partners and Australia is hardly in the mix, although this is expected to change with Jack Ma’s Alibaba Australia now established.

The Alipay smart tourism platform connects merchants and partners from across the world with Alipay users, allowing merchants to reach potential clients at lower cost with higher conversion rates. 

Already there have been agreements struck with official authorities in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Singapore.

Alipay, known as Zhifubao in Chinese and operated by Ant Financial, already claims to be the world’s largest online and mobile payment platform. The platform connects Chinese tourists with merchants, airports, travel agencies and other Alipay partners, giving users access to local offers and services, and merchants the ability to target potential clients.

“With 98 percent of outbound Chinese tourists owning a smartphone, there is a clear opportunity for a mobile-based ecosystem to deliver a truly 21st Century travel experience,” Ant Financial vice president Carl Su said at the recent 2017 Global Smart Tourism Ecosystem Summit in Beijing.

“Alipay’s smart tourist service platform connects all kinds of overseas merchants with the right Chinese tourists, even before they depart. Merchants find that our digital platform lowers marketing cost and improves conversion rate, while tourists find that access to local services and products is easier than ever before.”

Alipay’s outbound service platform allows users to download merchants’ coupons before or during their trip. Over 160,000 coupons are downloaded by users every day, among which 60 percent are redeemed when users pay via Alipay overseas.

Based on analysis of user preferences, Alipay recommends nearby merchants and even tips on itineraries. By paying with Alipay, users gain Alipay membership points that can access better exchange rates and discount rates – even VIP lounge access at the airport. 

The outbound tourism service platform also allows merchants and travel agencies to keep in touch with their customers online after the trip.


Alipay continues to expand its merchant network to provide better services for Chinese tourists wherever they travel. The payment platform is now accepted by more than 10 million merchants across China and by bricks-and-mortar shops in 33 countries and territories.

In September, Alipay signed Memorandums of Understanding with Finpro, Svensk Handel, and Scandinavian Tourist Board to promote Alipay’s smart tourism solutions to local merchants across the highly cashless Nordic countries.

Alipay and the Singapore Tourism Board have also started to cooperate in the areas of data, marketing, service and products, which will deliver benefits to both Chinese tourists and local merchants in the near future.

In Singapore and Finland, Chinese tourists can now enjoy local experiences by relying only on their smart phones. More than 80 percent of Singapore’s taxis provide Alipay as a payment option. Alipay is also accepted at more than 2,000 merchants, including Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Universal Studios Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore Zoo, department stores under Metro and Robinsons, and a series of hawker centres. Instant tax refunds via Alipay will soon also be available at Changi Airport.

In Finland, Chinese tourists can use Alipay to shop in-flight, on cruises, and pay for saunas. The payment convenience starts when a Chinese tourist books his or her flight ticket and hotel room online, and continues with shopping on Finnair flights between China and Helsinki. On the ground in Finland, Chinese tourists can access everything from bus trips and sightseeing in Helsinki to shopping, dining, and even meet the Moomin in Naantali or Santa Claus up in Lapland. In-cabin sales on Finnair flights between China and Helsinki have doubled since Alipay’s service was launched in January 2017.

Launched in 2004, Alipay currently has more than 520 million active users and over 450 financial institution partners globally. Operated by ant Financial Services, Alipay has evolved from a digital wallet to a lifestyle enabler.

Users can hail a taxi, book a hotel, buy movie tickets, pay utility bills, make appointments with doctors, or purchase wealth management products directly from within the app. In addition to online payments, Alipay is expanding to in-store offline payments both inside and outside of China.

Alipay’s in-store payment service is covering more than 30 countries across the world, and tax reimbursement via Alipay is supported in 24 countries and regions. Alipay works with more than 250 overseas financial institutions and payment solution providers to enable cross-border payments for Chinese travelling overseas and overseas customers who purchase products from Chinese e-commerce sites. Alipay currently supports 27 currencies.


A TOURISM INDUSTRY accelerator backed by some of Queensland’s biggest corporates, Amadeus and Brisbane Airport Corporation, has officially opened.

Named Horizons and facilitated by corporate accelerator program Slingshot, the program is designed to help travel and tourism start-ups secure the traction, viability, investment and partnership opportunities needed to succeed. 

Start-ups accepted into Horizons will receive bespoke training and resources, a support team of mentors, access to co-working space and $30,000 of initial seed investment with the potential for a further $100,000 of follow-on funding. 

They will also be able to tap into the expertise of some of the best travel business minds in the region with support from Amadeus – the travel industry global distribution system – and Brisbane Airport Corporation. 

“With more than 30 start-ups and 60 partners on board Amadeus Next, we continue to grow our start-up community in Asia Pacific,” Amadeus Asia Pacific  vice president for corporate strategy and business development Simon Akeroyd said.

“We look for like-minded partners and organisations that share our passion for innovation and travel technology to pilot with start-ups and validate their solutions and business models. Combining its people, vision and approach, Slingshot is a perfect example of this.”

Amadeus established Amadeus Next in 2015, a travel tech community to unite travel tech start-ups with companies and organisations who are equally excited about travel technology and looking to support, accelerate and scale Startups into leading companies.

Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO and managing director Julieanne Alroe said, “The growth and development of Queensland’s travel and tourism industry is inextricably linked to the future of Brisbane Airport Corporation. While our investment in infrastructure and partnerships are an important foundation, we’re looking to support new and innovative ideas that will drive further growth. Queensland is the obvious choice for Australia’s first travel and tourism accelerator and we can’t wait to see what emerges.” 

Start-ups can apply for the 12-week Horizons program, kicking off on October 3. Slingshot will operate two cohorts simultaneously, one based in Brisbane and a regional accelerator based in one of the world’s great tourism destinations - Cairns.

Slingshot CEO Karen Lawson said every industry faced disruption and the tourism industry was no exception. 

“We’ve already seen the impact of collaborative consumption business models like Airbnb and now we’re excited to invest in up and coming start-ups and scaling businesses as they shift the dial,” Ms Lawson said.

“With the tourism industry employing nearly 10 percent of people in Queensland, there is a huge opportunity to cross pollinate a range of products and services, like accommodation, leisure, retail, recreation services, transport and hospitality, with cutting edge technological developments like AI, big data, AR, VR and frictionless payments, to drive commercial outcomes.”

The 12-week program is led by start-up specialist and Queensland local, Colin Kinner, who has more than 20 years experience working with high-growth technology-based companies.

The Queensland Government’s $420 million Advance Queensland initiative is supporting the Slingshot-run Horizons accelerator. 

Queensland Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch said, “Horizons provides start-up entrepreneurs and business innovators with the support they need to thrive in the Queensland tourism industry. Not only does Slingshot cultivate local talent through first-class mentoring assistance, they also connect them to investors and potential business partners.”


MANTRA GROUP it has entered into an agreement with the Deague Group to acquire the Australian-owned Art Series Hotel Group for $52.5 million.

The acquisition will see seven luxury hotels – representing more than 1,000 guest rooms and including a number of conference and event facilities, restaurants and luxury hotel-style amenities – added to Mantra Group’s portfolio of 128 properties.

The seven hotels are: The Cullen, Prahran, Melbourne; The Larwill Studio, North Melbourne; The Olsen, South Yarra, Melbourne; The Blackman, St Kilda Road, Melbourne; The Chen, Box Hill, Melbourne; which is currently in the final stages of construction and is set to open in November 2017; The Johnson, Spring Hill, Brisbane; and The Watson, Walkerville, Adelaide. 

Each hotel is inspired and dedicated to Australian contemporary artists, infusing the namesake artist’s works and personality throughout the hotel to create unique art-inspired experiences. 

Mantra Group Chief Executive Officer Bob East said recognising the strength of the brand in the market, each business would continue to operate under the Art Series brand.

“These boutique properties are well suited to both leisure and corporate travellers and are located in some of Australia’s hottest art and cultural hubs, most of which Mantra Group already has a long-standing and high performing presence,” Mr East said.

“This acquisition enhances our existing portfolio and presents a unique opportunity for Mantra Group to increase its footprint across three key locations (Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide) in a single transaction.

“This is a rare opportunity to acquire a collection of exceptional hotels and one which is expected to make a significant contribution to Mantra Group’s business.

“These hotels have been operated to the highest standards by a passionate and dedicated team, and we are delighted to welcome such iconic and favoured properties to our growing network of hotels and resorts.

“We look forward to working with the owners, team members and guests to ensure a smooth transition.”

Settlement of the ‘Art Series Acquisition’ is expected to be completed in late 2017, subject to closing conditions customary for an acquisition of this nature, Mr East said,.

Mantra already has more than 21,500 rooms in properties under management across Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Hawaii.

Arts Series Hotel Group transformed the Australian hotel market when it launched in 2009. Inspired by and dedicated to Australian contemporary artists, each hotel takes design inspiration from the namesake artist.

With original artworks and prints adorning the walls and halls, the multifaceted art inspired experience is complete with dedicated art channels, art libraries, art tours and art utensils on supply. Glass bottomed pools, private outdoor decking areas, state of the art gymnasiums, massive communal spaces and boutique conference and events spaces complete the picture.


THE corporate travel market is witnessing a convergence of forces driving significant change in the industry as new technologies and digital disruption change the face of travel management.

That was the overall conclusion from the recent Global Business Travel Association annual convention in Boston, USA, according to FCM Travel Solutions general manager James Kavanagh, part of the Flight Centre group headquartered in Brisbane.

Corporate travel management companies that are best able to adapt and implement these technologies for the benefit of their clients and in particular enhance the traveller experience will emerge the strongest.  

“Travel management for organisations is no longer just about getting the best deals and ensuring compliance,” Mr Kavanagh said. “The experience of the traveller has been elevated and along with that the provision of relevant and timely information for them to make better decisions.

“Mobile platforms and mobility will continue to grow and redefine the experience and user engagement.”

At the GBTA convention, FCM Travel Solutions unveiled an updated version of its travel-intelligent chatbot Sam. Sam – short for Smart Assistant for Mobile – now has updated functionality that provides city guides, departure gate and baggage claim information, and improved geo-location directions to help guide travellers on the move.  Sam is being rolled out progressively in FCM markets.

Mr Kavanagh said the impact of Blockchain technology may have far reaching benefits for the travel industry beyond its value on a payments and operational level. Potential benefits include security features which may be vital for customer satisfaction and retention, he said.

“The rise of internet gatekeepers in the travel industry was seen as a game changer as they amass data which translates into marketplace power,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“Sites such as Expedia, and Trivago are determining what information travellers are seeing and how they are seeing it. This aggregation can lead to fragmentation in booking processes for corporates with a resulting effect on adhering to travel policies. Industry players will need to consider how to collaborate with them due to their rising power.”

The impact of distribution disruption was analysed in the form of IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) which is designed to modernise the way air products are retailed to travel agents, corporations and travellers.

The expected impacts were varied, with opinions divided between it just creating a new group of consolidations through to it being a new breed of Global Distribution System (GDS) potentially lowering costs of distribution.

FCM reported seven of the top technology trends for 2017 included enhancing the traveller experience; power of big data and business intelligence; virtual reality advances; rise of artificial intelligence (AI); the future of payments; corporate booking tools; incentive alignment/behavioural economics and gamification.

The onset of AI and enhancing the traveller experience rank most highly in importance amongst current technology trends.

“Voice recognition technologies are changing the way that people interact with various channels and will change how they book and manage travel,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“Data analytics and machine learning will become more commonplace and be used widely in the industry to improve experiences and the quality of travel programs.

“We’re seeing the impact that Generation X and Z are having with a continued shift to more user-friendly and open programs. Companies like FCM are responding to that.”

Some of the biggest shifts are occurring through AI and the use of chatbots to anticipate travellers’ needs and provide real-time updates — such as traffic and departure information — and assistance on their mobile device.


THE International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney), has been awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating, recognising its all-encompassing approach to sustainability.

The LEED ratings system, developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is the foremost program for buildings that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. Its status is also expected to attract more business events.  

NSW Minister for Finance, Services and Property, Victor Dominello, said the $1.5 billion venue, delivered by Darling Harbour Live, is the centrepiece of the $3.5 billion rejuvenation of the Darling Harbour precinct, and an important part of the NSW Government’s focus on sustainability.

“ICC Sydney is recognised as a leader in sustainable building design. The integrated venue has been cleverly designed to minimise energy and water consumption, whilst still delivering world class amenities for business events and live entertainment.”

ICC Sydney CEO Geoff Donaghy, CEO said the LEED Gold certification would help attract more business events to the venue.

“Today, the business events industry is more focused than ever before on ensuring we act in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way, and this is something we are seeing translate into client requirements,” Mr Donaghty said.

“ICC Sydney has secured over 850 bookings to date and we expect this accreditation will help us increase our competitive advantage on the global stage and continue to foster the NSW visitor economy. It also backs our commitment to providing world class facilities and experiences for our guests, alongside the ultimate in quality, choice and flexibility for the world’s leaders and thinkers, to meet, collaborate and innovate.”

The LEED Gold certification recognises ICC Sydney’s work in sustainability including: Reuse of 100,000 cubic metres of concrete from the original brownfield site; use of 96 percent recycled steel in its Exhibition Halls; highly efficient central energy plant and building management systems; Australia’s largest electric car charging station for 25 vehicles; and a community funded solar array, the nation’s largest in a CBD, providing 5 percent of the venue’s energy – or enough to power 100 homes.

Darling Harbour Live general manager Peter Robertson said the accolade further strengthened the precinct’s environmental credentials, with the broader revitalisation project having recently received an outstanding 6-Star Green Star Communities rating from the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).

“Since its opening in December 2016, ICC Sydney has transformed Darling Harbour. We now have 30 percent more public space and greater connectivity through the creation of pedestrian and cyclist links in the precinct.”


A GLOBAL conference on tourism, jobs and inclusive growth is taking place from November 27-29, gathering 1500 participants and over 150 speakers in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The conference is organised by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Government of Jamaica, the World Bank Group and the Inter-American Development Bank aims to set a new collaborative framework for tourism moving towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is an official event of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

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