On July 9th 2021, a Wedding Industry Breakfast event was held at The Oaks, Toowoomba to bring wedding industry small and micro vendors, local politicians, influencers and media together to listen to the message of ABIA Weddings, Australia, Managing Director, Natasha O’Meara, as to how the region might be able to best position itself as one of Australia’s top 10 Wedding Destination Packages. COVID 19 restrictions which have devastated the wedding industry over the past two years, restricted the face to face visit of Gold Coast based ABIA at that time. However, the response at the Breakfast was resoundingly positive, so the visit of Natasha and her General Manager Josh Grice was rescheduled for Thursday 23rd September. What a wonderful display of Toowoomba’s Spring weather and its famous gardens for the month-long Carnival of Flowers activities greeted them on their arrival on Thursday.
. Ian Wickham of In the Booth photographs organised a multi-location tour to showcase both the diversity of the venues and the attractions of the city-to-country ambience the region offers, as well as organising a first-class Paddock to Plate foodie display and taste experience via a networking evening event. His network of 150 small and micro vendors was eager to build on the July introduction.
. Kim Cahill of ToowoombaDarlingDowns.com.au social media marketing platform organised the opportunity for ABIA to discuss their findings of the day’s activities with Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce CEO, Todd Rohl, and to present and speak to the report they had compiled through their large national membership base regarding the impact COVID has had on the industry. This report by ABIA is advocating at the Federal Government level on behalf of the thousands of vendors who need assistance to ride out the pandemic losses.
. Todd’s support for the Collaboration and local initiative to move the industry forward was strong. Todd reported that an application for Federal funding submitted early in 2021 is still waiting for a response due to delays in processing.
. Then came the opportunity for the organising collaborators of Kim Cahill, Ian Wickham, and Mary Reid of Merivale Cakes and Crafts to debrief with Natasha and Josh and formulate some strategies for continuing the momentum. Kim had also arranged for Belinda Sanders from ABC Southern Qld to hear the ABIA message.
High-end 5 star venues Gabbinbar Homestead and Preston Peak are the most widely associated outside Toowoomba. Couples pay around $40,000 for weddings at these prestigous city venues.
Gabbinar, with its sweeping driveway entrance, magnificent heritage homestead, ballroom, quiet retreat areas, breakout room for photographers, manicured lawns, extensive garden nooks for photographs sits in a suburban location, and has a national reputation for quality. Chloe’s attention to detail, and accommodating personality and the 60 plus staff ensure its high standards for the hundreds of weddings up to 120 guests range.
Preston Peak is a short 10 minute drive south from Toowoomba, and commands a magnificent view over the range and down the Lockyer Valley. Its clear-sided Chapel, helicopter landings, famous chandelier upon entering the local winery, renowned food menu from a chef and great food team, its own wines and manager Matt’s engaging character make this a very popular choice for couples from Brisbane and Ipswich in particular.
Ian included key tourist locations GumbiGumbi Indigenous Gardens and Raku En Japanese Gardens attached to the University of Southern Queensland to show Natasha and Josh attractions which would entice guests to stay in the Garden City before or after a wedding.
On the Country LIfe side of the regional experience, Ian then drove past Bracknell Lodge – a newer player still developing its grounds, licences and credibility in the rural category. Next was Aberfeldy with its iconic American Barn, expansive views across the plains around Westbrook, Bunkers Hill and Wellcamp, and its effervescent host Cassie. Country hospitality is the vibe here, with the more informal firepit, farm setting and quirky fixtures, then the unexpected large interior behind the sliding barn doors. The huge space offers plenty of creative room for the couples to put their own stamp on things, as well as a homewares store. Accommodation is in the planning stages of this relatively new, but already highly sought-after venture.
The inclusion of the Wellcamp Airport and Precinct in the tour itinerary was a winner. To be able to show the potential for future growth, the Quarantine facility now under construction, the Boeing facility recently announced, the future Austerion Hemp facility and the Entertainment Precinct as well as the potential of the airport to attract wedding guests both nationally and internationally was a valuable insight.
Continuing the tour of the Country Life venues, next was Adora Downs. This long-standing family owned and run homestead boasts a 125 bed capacity in its many and varied historic homes and converted buildings which dot the sprawling acres around the main hall and chapel. Under the laconic watch of this laid-back couple, Adora Downs has the rustic charm and memories so many couples from out west are seeking. For those coming long distances, the capacity to camp onsite is a real drawcard. Being rural there is no curfew on noise or alcohol, which is often a sore point at the city venues. The grounds are filled with treasures and the family and fun-feel pervade the whole complex. A bush bonanza!
The final stop on the day’s tour, after a quick peak at the currently closed Jondaryan Woolshed from the road, was at the Toowoomba Regional Council run Highfields Cultural Centre where Renee showed us the peaceful lawn setting and breakout and weather-proof spaces as well as the well-known and regarded hall space which caters for very large numbers for a variety of events. The fall in wedding numbers at the venue due to a number of pandemic issues and alternative venue openings, has seen the Centre move to more Corporate events.
While Highfields falls under the jurisdiction of the TRC, its residents have always seen Highfields as an independent town, and the recent formulation of the Highfields Chamber of Commerce hopes to see its infrastructure and business opportunities grown in line with its rapidly expanding residency numbers.
Natasha and Josh were then returned to the Highfield Motel where this handy northern accommodation location under the highly experienced couple Bruce and Heidi Ryman, offered respite after the long, but very comprehensive day’s overview of the range of regional offerings.
The Paddock to Plate Event
The evening saw the spectacular display of local producers and suppliers at Lily’s Restaurant at the Highfields Motel under Bruce’s experienced eye, and in partnership with photographer Kat Lynn from Foodie Shots and the Downs Hospitality Training specialist, Stephen Simon. These partnerships provided a quality event for Ian’s Wedding Industry Network to gather, appreciate the chance to Network in a supportive, informal setting and listen to Natasha’s message around collaboration and strategic future planning and action to create the regional destination package. Building on the distinct features the region offers and avoiding the competitiveness which divides rather than builds, there is a real opportunity.
The vendors certainly made the most of the opportunity to tap in to ABIA’s strengths and generosity in coming to visit and share, and it appeared to be a mutually beneficial experience.
An early meeting with TCOC saw Todd explain that the you existing funding application submitted early in 2021 is awaiting the results, but the process has been delayed considerably, and it is not advisable to lose the momentum gained in this recent positive collaboration with ABIA or to sit waiting for the outcome. His offer of support was appreciated. He took a copy of the ABIA report based on a survey of 800 members on the impact of COVID 19 and the conditions the wedding industry finds itself in. Breakdowns across states, and the needs cited by vendors makes compelling reading, and it is hoped that ABIA’s advocacy and appeal to the Federal Government to act upon its findings, will be fruitful.
Natasha and Josh generously offered feedback on their visit to the Collaboration team, and then were interviewed for ABC regional radio by Belinda Sanders.
Where to from here?
. the need to survey all vendors, through existing databases inviting them to respond to a small number of questions
. Deciding on the purpose and distinctive regional branding for moving forward
. Gathering knowledge around other successful regions, such as Maleny, to discuss goals and strategies which built their success
. Explore the possibility of being supported by the Chamber as a sub-group until becoming independent
The Collaboration Team acknowledges the incredible generosity of Natasha and ABIA in supporting initiatives to develop an already vibrant regional wedding industry in to a nationally recognised Wedding Destination Package. It also acknowledges the offer of ongoing advice, and statistical support, and sincerely thanks ABIA Weddings for its wonderful partnership.