About the only thing a business traveller can find wrong with Sydney is that it is so far away from the rest of the world.
Other than a little jet lag after the 25-hour journey from Europe, the 14-hour slog from California, or the 10-hour flight from Tokyo, Sydney is all positives: a gorgeous harbour, Mediterranean climate and a sophisticated food and wine scene. Its hotel stock is modern and upscale. Every day the Qantas fleet of giant Airbus A380s float in at Sydney’s newly expanded, bright and airy international terminal at Kingsford Smith airport from cities around the world.
When it comes to business, there is little sign of a “GFC” in Sydney. GFC is how Sydneysiders refer to that unfortunate global financial crisis that has cast a pall on nearly every other city in the world. But in Australia, a stable government, massive raw materials exports to Asia, a strong currency and a talented, optimistic workforce have helped it weather the global economic storm better than almost any other advanced nation in the world.
Spurred on by robust business and consumer confidence, economists expect Australia’s economy to expand even faster in the next five years. Through 2015, Australia’s GDP should grow about 5% annually.
Hotels: elegant or edgy?
When it re-opens in early 2012 after a seven-month closure for a tip-to-toe renovation, the harbourfront Park Hyatt Sydney will likely resume its rank as the top choice for visiting business travellers. This contemporary three-storey hotel is known for its breezy indoor-outdoor public areas and spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House through floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies. A few blocks uphill on a quiet street above the Rocks you will find the classically elegant 100-room Observatory Hotel, favoured by CEOs and diplomats. Nearby is the 563-room Shangri-La, an ultramodern marble and glass tower hotel offering equally expansive rooms and views, free wi-fi, and a bar on the 36
floor with a very popular happy hour. Closer to the “CBD” (how Australians refer to a city’s central business district), is the Radisson Blu Plaza hotel, a modern 362-room boutique-style hotel built inside an 1800s sandstone façade that once housed Bank of New South Wales. Here “business class” rooms get complimentary lounge access, wi-fi and a hot breakfast buffet among other extras.
Two of Sydney’s hippest hostelries are housed in reclaimed buildings. The popular 136-room Blue Sydneyhotel serves as the anchor for a lovely marina, outdoor dining and apartment complex in a repurposed wharf building at Woolloomooloo near Sydney’s famous Royal Botanic Gardens. The hotel’s wide variety of rooms and lofts retain the rustic authenticity of the building (like its exposed timber) while providing a modern five-star experience and water views. Fashionistas and celebs hole up in the modernist chic 31-room Establishment Hotel located in a converted warehouse building in the middle of the CBD, adjacent to some of the hottest restaurants and bars in the city. If you are looking for more space or a longer stay, consider the new Fraser Suites near Darling Harbour, with 201warmly functional luxury studios and suites.
Off the clock
If you have some free time, head to the city’s busy ferry hub at Circular Quay and catch any of the many ferries to get some fresh air, establish your bearings and see locals on their way to or from work. (Sydney ferries carry more than 14 million passengers each year.) The ferry ride to nearby Manly for an outdoor meal and stroll to its picturesque beach is perhaps the most iconic choice for visitors. On Saturdays, catch one to Balmain for a walk through its famous outdoor market and surrounding fisherman’s cottages. Stick around for a long lunch at Kazbah, or take a tour of its many pubs, which Australians call “hotels”. The harbour’s Cockatoo Island, which once housed a prison (among other structures), is an increasingly popular playground, and now includes the quirky Island Bar. But arrive early because the last ferry departs the island at 8:30 pm.
Do not do this!
Australia is a proudly egalitarian society, which has several implications for visiting business travellers. First off, when establishing business relationships, humility is important, so avoid being a “show off” or “know-it-all”. Australians like to “cut down the tall poppies”, which means dismissing or downplaying standouts. Aussie egalitarianism extends into the service industries, too. For example, cabbies prefer that single riders sit up front with them. And do not be surprised if a cabbie returns a tip with a scowl — he is just letting you know that he is not there to serve you. Similarly, visitors are sometimes surprised at the relatively inattentive service at restaurants. Servers are paid the same amount no matter how many times they fill your water glass — and tipping (which is rare) does little to insure promptness.
Sydney’s restaurant scene is bursting with new, exciting and exotic choices. The country’s top restaurant Quay is a favourite for chef Peter Gilmore’s authentic Australian menu and its only-in-Sydney views of the Opera House, skyline and famous Harbour Bridge. The seasonal menus feature locally grown and raised ingredients and its wine cellar is considered one of Australia’s finest. The equally upscale Café Sydney, located on the roof of the Customs House in Circular Quay serves up flavours most associated with a harbourside setting: chilled crustaceans, oysters freshly shucked to order and grilled ocean fish. For something a little more laid back, head over to the finger wharf in Woolloomooloo for a business lunch or dinner at China Doll (Asian), Otto (Italian) or Kingsley’s (steak). The place gets packed with the shirt-and-tie lunch crowd on sunny Thursday or Friday afternoons and the fun frequently spills over into evenings.
Those seeking the perfect souvenir or gift might drop by outfitter RM Williams with three locations in Sydney. Since 1932, the store has been on the forefront of Australia’s laid back, bush-inspired style. It is best known for its handcrafted boots, moleskin jeans, hats and a full line of casual wear for men and women that you will not find anywhere else in the world. Also, check out the colourful collections of distinctive jewellery, house wares and other crafts “handmade with love in Australia” at Dinosaur Designs’ three locations.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel