Business trip: Sydney

A weaker Australian dollar is making it easier for international visitors to reserve a hotel room with a prized water view or to snag a table in a top restaurant.

Australia is one of the few countries that avoided the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. But after years riding a wave of red-hot growth and expansion, the Australian economy is starting to cool off as demand for its vast mineral resources tapers.

But that doesn't make Sydney any less desirable or important for business travellers. Australia’s annual growth rate remains at a respectable 2.6%, and the number of international business travellers arriving in the country’s largest city grew by 0.6% in 2012, according to Destination NSW, the regional tourism board. And starting in December 2013, the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour will close for massive 1.1 billion Australian dollar re-do, re-emerging in 2016 as the 20-hectare, state-of-the-art International Convention Centre Sydney.

According to state government statistics, business travellers arriving in Sydney spent 6% less in 2012 than in the heady days of 2011. Smaller travel budgets, declining demand and a weaker Australian dollar mean that it is becoming easier for international visitors to reserve a hotel room with a prized water view or to snag a table in a top restaurant.

Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport, located just 16km south of the Central Business District (CBD) remains busy. The poorly connected domestic and international terminals can cause frustration for transferring travellers, but airport officials have plans to improve the situation with roadway upgrades. Plus, there is growing support for a proposed A$6 billion second airport at Badgerys Creek in Sydney’s far western suburbs, which would help relieve the pressure at Kingsford Smith.

In the meantime, taxi is the easiest way to get between the airport and town (A$50). Airport Link trains depart from both international (A$16.70) and domestic terminals (A$15.90) for the 20 to 30 minute trip to the CBD.

Hotels

Elegant
The biggest news on Sydney’s luxury hotel scene was the 2012 acquisition of the legendary Observatory Hotel by Hong Kong’s rapidly expanding Langham Hospitality Group, which promptly changed the hotel’s name to The Langham, Sydney. The group has plans for a “progressive refurbishment” of the elegant Georgian-style, 96-room hotel, perched in the CBD on a quiet bluff above The Rocks, the site of Sydney’s original European settlement and now a popular historical district.

After what seemed like forever, the scaffolding came down and doors opened in March 2012 at the completely rebuilt 155-room Park Hyatt Sydney, located on the water in The Rocks near the ferry hub Circular Quay. Most rooms offer floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors leading to balconies that look out to the iconic Sydney Opera House, The Rocks and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but you’ll get stunning near-360-degree views from the fourth storey suites or from the sexy rooftop pool deck.

The Darling is Sydney’s newest five-star hotel. The 171-room hotel at Darling Harbour, just west of the CBD, is part of a massive A$870 million redevelopment of The Star, a glitzy mixed use development on Darling Harbour that includes 20 restaurants, a casino, bars, cafes, clubs and high-end retail stores. If you are looking to relax after a long journey – or just a long day – ask for a room with an oversized bathtub that overlooks the harbour.

Edgy
You’ll find a little of Sydney’s historic charm (think brick walls and exposed beams) combined with contemporary design (bespoke furnishings, Australian art and walk-in showers) at the 90-room 1888 Hotel Sydney in Pyrmont on the western edge of the CBD. The hotel currently bills itself as the world’s first Instagram hotel, offering users with more than 10,000 followers the opportunity to redeem a free night stay by simply emailing their request to the hotel. There’s also a “selfie” space (a large gilded frame) where guests can photograph themselves to post on social networks. If jetlag has you up early, take in the action at the neighbouring Sydney Fish Market (the largest in the southern hemisphere) with a fascinating 1.5-hour, behind-the-scenes tour that begins at 6:40 am. 

For longer stays, consider the newly opened five-star ADGE Apartment Hotel, a collection of two-bedroom, two-bath, open-plan apartments located in the creative hub of Surry Hills on the southern fringe of the CBD. All guests checking in get a complimentary “welcome tonic to restore the mind, body and spirit” – which might be just what you need after a long-haul flight. If you’re at the ADGE on the first Saturday of the month, don’t miss the popular Surry Hills Markets held at the nearby Shannon Reserve.

Expense account
Nomad just opened its doors in Surry Hills and has been an immediate hit among locals. This is where chef Nathan Sisi (recently returned from a stint at Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s London restaurant) draws on the flavours of the Mediterranean, using local Aussie ingredients along with techniques such as smoking, curing, wood firing and pickling. Dishes are presented as small tapas or large sharing portions – some recent plates include wood roasted pork with silverbeet and Canary Island potatoes, or wood-fired clams and pipis with sherry and charred leeks.

For a taste of contemporary French Mediterranean fare, check out the new Ananas Bar & Brasserie housed in a historic building in The Rocks. Enjoy a glass of Champagne, shucked-to-order oysters and a full brasserie menu of classics such as steak tartar, seared scallops, lobster ravioli and, of course, steak frites.

Sydney’s large Greek immigrant culture is well represented at The Apollo in Potts Point, just east of the CBD, where you’ll find classic dishes such as spanakopita (called “wild weed and cheese pie” on the menu); taramasalata (a dip made with fish roe) served with wood-fired pita; grilled octopus with chickpeas and cucumber; or slow cooked lamb. For those dining alone, meals can be served at the marble-topped bar on the edge of the elegantly minimalist dining room.

Off the clock
Spending too much time in beige boardrooms? Jump on a westbound train and spend a day or two in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, 90km west of Sydney. Even though they were partially hit by bushfires in October, national park staff have been reopening many tracks, trails and lookouts. Take in the views of ancient rock formations like the famous Three Sisters from perches in the area, such as Echo Point Lookout near Katoomba, Govetts Leap at Blackheath, Hassans Walls at Lithgow and Kanangra-Boyd National Park.

If you feel like staying overnight, check into the exquisite Lilienfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa or the plush-yet-conservation-minded five-star Emirates Wolgon Valley Resort & Spa (owned by the same group that runs the Dubai-based airline).

Go local
You haven’t really been to Australia if you haven’t spent some time relaxing in its pubs – many of which include the word “hotel” in their name since they provided accommodation in the early 20th Century (but only a handful do so today).

If you are looking for the right spot for you and your colleagues, The Australian Hospitality Association of New South Wales just nominated the 10 best pubs in Sydney according to The Australian newspaper. Those in or near the CBD include the Clock Hotel (Surry Hills) The Establishment Hotel (part of a stylish 31-room hotel on George Street) and Le Pub (York Street).

Don’t do this
As the warm summer months approach in the Antipodes, do not attempt to engage in serious business on Friday afternoons. That’s when even the most seriously business-minded Sydneysiders cannot resist the urge to have lunch (make reservations for 1pm) and spend much of the afternoon soaking up the sun with friends and colleagues.