1980s: Sydney stamps its intention
Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer. IBM launches its first PC. The AIDS epidemic is on the rise. The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes. The Rubik’s Cube makes its debut. And everyone is sporting big hair, big shoulder pads, and big phones.
Let’s just say a lot was going on in the 80s. Behind the scenes? Australia was experiencing huge growth in its tourism sector, along with increased interest in business travel and global meetings.
For Sydney, it was time to stamp its intention. For the Bureau, it was time to raise the bar.
A global city builds its profile
Tourism was beginning to make its mark in Sydney – not just with the number of visitors coming, but also with facilities to accommodate and entertain them.
It was a decade where big buildings boomed. The Sydney Tower (Centrepoint) opened in August 1981, and in the following year, the 5-star Regent of Sydney (now The Four Seasons Hotel) did the same, which led to a domino effect as other hotels embarked on extensive refurbishment plans.
The Regent also marked a revitalisation of The Rocks, in Sydney’s Circular Quay precinct, as a tourist attraction. And three years later, the opening of the InterContinental Sydney showed that tourism could play a leading role in the preservation of historic areas. By the end of the 1980s, 16 hotels were under construction in Sydney – which translated to 3,000 more rooms available for potential business travellers.
As all this was happening, Sydney became increasingly active in promotional events and marketing. It hosted the Japanese Sapporo Snow Festival in 1983 and was the star of both a CNN special and 40-minute U.S. TV feature with the Harlem Globetrotters.
One of Sydney’s early infrastructure redevelopments, the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth 11 as part of the new Darling Harbour precinct which was the Government’s gift to the community as part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 1988. Located harbourside and adjacent to the central business district, the new Centre was the pillar of progress and growth – Sydney’s largest city-making project in decades - and was designed to enhance community and tourism opportunities. An iconic monorail was also installed to provide access between all points of the city centre.
An icon of its time, the building - and its architects - won the coveted Sulman Medal for public architecture in 1989 (jointly awarded to Philip Cox Richardson Taylor Partners). During the lifetime of the building it was said to have played a key social role in the city, which was highlighted during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Darling Harbour was known to the first nation inhabitants of the Sydney area, the Cadigal people, as Tumbalong (the southern part), and by 1804, it was known as Cockle Bay, after the large numbers of shell middens in the area. These names live on today.
Riding the highs, weathering the lows
By 1981, the Bureau has embarked on an aggressive marketing program. The efforts quickly paid off.
In 1981, the number of conferences bid for and won were estimated to be worth $2.18 million to Sydney. On the back the Bureau’s new marketing strategy, this skyrocketed to $120 million by 1988.
By the end of the decade, Australia had jumped into the top 20 international conference destinations. During 1988, Australia’s bicentennial year, Sydney hosted 64 international meetings. In 1989, the Bureau had doubled its staff to 16 and had appointed representatives in America and Europe.
Sydney had raised its business tourism profile beyond the most ambitious expectations – setting itself up to bring the largest and most influential global meetings to our shores.