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Mon 10 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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Marvellous Melbourne

The revitalisation of the Yarra River's south bank has transformed Melbourne into a thriving city, with great food, sporting events and shopping.

The revitalisation of the Yarra River's south bank has transformed Melbourne into a thriving city, with great food, sporting events and shopping.

Melbourne is often the "forgotten city" when travellers - and travel agents - plan a trip to Australia as the glitz of the Gold Coast and the iconic Sydney harbour often prove the most popular Down Under draw cards.

The demand is there, the [airline] frequency is there, and Melbourne has plenty of food styles, plenty of activities available, and offers great family entertainment all-year-round.

But with world-class shopping, some of the best sporting events in the southern hemisphere and a thriving cosmopolitan lifestyle, agents would be remiss to leave Melbourne off their clients' itineraries.

Making Melbourne marvellous

Boasting a population of nearly four million people, Melbourne is Australia's second biggest city - behind Sydney - and was the country's capital city from the federation of Australia in 1901 until 1927.

In the 1850s gold was discovered near the city and speculators from all over the world came to try their luck, beginning the migrant love affair with Melbourne and earning the city its tagline of ‘Marvellous Melbourne'.

Later after World War II, the city received another large influx of immigrants, creating the mix of cultures present in Melbourne today - food lovers can tempt their taste buds by visiting Little Greece, Little Italy, China Town, or Little Vietnam if they wish.

While Melbourne is no longer the country's political capital, it is still considered to be the cultural and sporting capital of Australia.

In the city, highlights include the National Gallery of Victoria, which often showcases international exhibitions; the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the venue for the 1956 Olympic Games; the bustling shopping districts of Chapel Street and Bridge Road; and the thriving nightlife of Fitzroy, St Kilda and the Crown Casino complex in the central business district (CBD).

Daytrips out of Melbourne will give travellers access to the picturesque Great Ocean Road and southern touring route, the ever-popular Yarra Valley vineyards, and the relaxing spas at Daylesford.

Tourism Australia distribution development manager Andrew Oldfield says Melbourne should be sold as a year-round destination, not just for the Middle Eastern summer (which is winter in Melbourne).

"Melbourne city has plenty to offer tourists seeking food, attractions, shopping, great hands-on museums, and interesting spaces such as parks for families to visit and stay together," he explains.

"The different styles of accommodation available really suit the Middle Eastern market, whether it is in longer-stay apartments, or if people are staying for one or two nights, there is lots of beautiful hotels right in the heart of the city.

"Melbourne is a great city to sit in a café and watch the world go by - all Melburnians love doing it, so there is a really good synergy for Middle Eastern guests to enjoy everything the city has to offer."

According to Sharaf Travel holidays manager Aloke Dey, Melbourne offers travellers a great range of activities.

"There is something for everyone, whether it be nature, heritage, the coast and sea, wildlife, cruises, trendy café culture and bright night life," Dey says.

"There is even the option for skiing in the winter months, just a few hours' drive from the city."

"Melbourne is famous for its shopping, sporting events and conventions. We do see Melbourne as one of the premier MICE destinations in Australia, offering a cosmopolitan culture, a variety of hotel options, innovative team building activities and local excursions within easy reach of the city."

More than 73,000 travellers currently visit Australia from the Middle East each year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Overseas Arrivals and Departures 1995-2006 report, with Victoria - the southern state where Melbourne is located - receiving a third of these visits.

Air access to the city from the region is good, with direct flights operating between Dubai and Melbourne, and the city is also a popular destination on several of the luxury cruise itineraries.
Coach company AAT Kings national sales manager sightseeing Peter Townsend says current demand for the company's tours is strong in North America and Europe, but demand from the Middle East is increasing.

"Over the last three years we have seen a good growth from the Gulf countries in day tours [around Sydney and Melbourne]," he says.

"One of our most popular tours is our Great Ocean Road tour, and that seems to be a big hit with everyone, because the scenery is amazing. Another big favourite we have found with a lot of markets is a morning in the Dandenong Ranges with a visit to Puffing Billy and a winery tour at the end."

The third most popular tour is a visit to Phillip Island, where hundreds of fairy penguins walk up the beach each evening to nest on the shore.

For those who would prefer to stay close to the city, many hotels have tailored their product offer to deliver world-class luxury.

Grand Hyatt Melbourne marketing communications manager Tara Bishop says the property is currently undergoing an AUD $40 million (US $36 million) redevelopment, expected to be complete in October.

"This comprehensive renovation includes a brand new lobby, brand new entrances, a Middle Eastern restaurant with a well known chef - Greg Malouf - and a gorgeous retail precinct with Bvlgari, Emporio Armani, and Melbourne's first ever standalone Paspaley Pearls boutique," she says.

"The hotel's location is ideal, and is on the doorstep to some of the city's best shopping. Gucci, Cartier, Bally, Louis Vuitton - you name it, they are just a stiletto step away."

Leisure guests are also well catered to at the property, she explains, with the hotel boasting a day spa and the largest hotel fitness centre in the country.

"The hotel also has three brand new golf practice nets on our level nine outdoor level of the hotel," Bishop says.

"We're pretty sure this is the only one of its kind in Australia, and perhaps the world."

Geographically challenged?

The biggest challenge facing agents trying to convince their clients to visit Melbourne is the tyranny of time, according to Cox & Kings Tours UAE manager Mahesh Ammanath.

With many flights to Melbourne requiring a minimum of 14 hours travel time from the Middle East - and most connections requiring more - Melbourne should not be recommended to clients seeking a short getaway, he advises.

"If someone is looking at a five-day holiday, they are not going to look at Australia because two days would be spent travelling there," he explains.

"If your client has 10 to 14 days to spare then Australia is a good option, because it has a lot more to offer than many other destinations."

HOW TO SELL TOFamilies: located south-east of Melbourne, each day hundreds of fairy penguins make their way from the ocean to their coastal nests at Phillip Island.

Other highlights for families include the roller coasters at Luna Park, getting up close and personal with Australian wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary or trying the boiled sweets at Sovereign Hill - an historical town recreating Melbourne's colonial gold-mining past. Visit

Luxury/top end: overlooking the Yarra River and a stone's throw from the bustling CBD, Crown Towers Hotel has 482 rooms, many boasting spectacular views across the city. Or, for a taste of old-world luxury, recommend The Hotel Windsor, where local institutions include daily afternoon tea and one of the best breakfasts in town.

For the best meals, suggest dining at Flower Drum, which is regularly the critics' choice for the best food in Melbourne - if not Australia.

Sports fans: many Melbournians consider their city to be the sporting capital of the world, so a trip that coincides with a big sporting event is certain to be exciting.

The Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix is held between March 13 and 16; Australian Rules Football matches will be held on most weekends between March 20 and September 27; the superbikes will battle it out at the Australian Moto GP at Phillip Island from October 3 to 5; and the 'race that stops a nation', the Melbourne Cup, will be held as part of the spring racing festival between November 1 and 8. In addition, the Grand Slam of the tennis calendar, the Australian Open, is always a popular draw card.

Adventure travellers: the southern coast of Victoria has some of the best surfing locations in the world, with the annual competition at Bells Beach bringing in the big names of world surfing. For beginners, recommend Torquay, a two-hour drive south-west of Melbourne.

There are plenty of surf schools and the town is the birthplace of international surf-fashion brands Rip Curl and Quiksilver.

The second challenge that is faced by travel agents trying to sell Melbourne is their lack of familiarity with the city, says Ammanath.

"Most of the time the only option they offer in Australia is the Gold Coast," he explains.

"I think travel agents need to take a little more effort to talk about the rest of Australia - it is a huge country with a great diversity of cultures.

Sharaf Travel's Dey suggests selling Melbourne as part of a packaged itinerary with either the Gold Coast or Sydney.

"The Gold Coast is still the most popular Australian destination, but there is a growing trend for dual destination travel where travellers will visit either Sydney or Melbourne on their way there," he says.

Tourism Australia's Oldfield says agents can improve their overall knowledge on what Melbourne and the other major Australian destinations have to offer by signing up to the online Aussie Specialist agent training programme.

High ambitions

With the city working hard to establish its credentials in the region - the recent Australian Rules match held in Dubai was used as an opportunity for official Victorian Government functions in the United Arab Emirates.

Emirates Airline currently flies twice daily to the city and while Etihad Airways has ruled out flying to the city in the immediate future, there are plans to increase capacity on its popular Abu Dhabi-Sydney route, according to media relations officer Thomas Clarke.

"We fly to both Sydney and Brisbane currently and as the airline expands, Melbourne will be a destination of interest for us," he says.

"Sydney has been a phenomenal destination for us and when our winter schedule starts later this year, we will fly there daily, which shows how popular the destination is."

Etihad has a codeshare agreement in place with Aussie low-cost carrier Virgin Blue and there are also inklings that Qatar Airways is considering operating a Doha-Melbourne service in the not-too-distant future.

Tourism Australia's Oldfield agrees the city has much to be optimistic about.

"The demand is there, the [airline] frequency is there, and Melbourne has plenty of food styles, plenty of activities available, and offers great family entertainment all-year-round," he concludes.

THE SALES PITCHGetting there

Emirates Airline: from Dubai, double daily - one direct and one via Singapore.

Singapore Airlines: Abu Dhabi-Singapore, three weekly; Cairo-Singapore, three weekly; Dubai-Singapore, 10 weekly; Singapore-Melbourne, three daily.

Malaysia Airlines: Bahrain-KL, four weekly; Beirut-KL, three weekly; Doha-KL, three weekly; Dubai-KL, three weekly; Jeddah-KL, two weekly; KL-Melbourne, double daily.

Cathay Pacific: Dubai-Hong Kong, 13 weekly; Bahrain-Hong Kong, daily; Riyadh-Hong Kong, four weekly; Hong Kong-Melbourne, three daily.

Thai Airways: Dubai-Bangkok, 12 weekly; Bangkok-Melbourne, 13 weekly.

Qantas: Singapore-Melbourne daily; Hong Kong-Melbourne daily. In addition, Aussie low-cost carrier Jetstar flies three times per week from Bangkok to Melbourne.


All visitors to Australia - other than citizens of New Zealand - need a valid visa to enter the country. Applications can be made online at, or check with your nearest Australian embassy or consulate. Locations of Australian embassies and consulates can be found at


One Australian dollar (AUD $1) = US 0.88; AED 3.26; BHD 0.33; EGP 4.96; IRR 8228; JOD 0.63; KWD 0.24; LBP 1341; OMR 0.34; QAR 3.23; SAR 3.33.


AAT Kings: Offers tours daily to see the penguin parade on Phillip Island. Departing at 1.30pm, the tour includes visits to Warrook Farm - complete with sheep, cattle and kangaroos - and the Koala Conservation Centre before seeing the penguin parade at Summerland Beach. Prices from April 1 are AUD $127 (US $114) for adults and AUD $64 ($57) for children. Visit

Emirates Holidays: Prices for a four-day/three-night package including accommodation at Rydges Melbourne, return flights, airport transfers by private car and American breakfast daily start from AED 6099 (US $1661), excluding airport departure tax.

Dnata Holidays: Between April 1 and September 25 guests booking three nights in a superior room at the Sofitel Melbourne get an additional night free. Prices for a four-night package start from AED 6880 (US $1874) per person including accommodation, daily breakfast, return airport transfers, return economy flights, air taxes and fuel surcharges.


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