As many of you know, ICA has members in 87 countries, so our conference locales rotate around the globe. Typically we’re in North America every other year, and in the intervening years we alternate between Europe and Asia/Oceania. If you’re an ICA member in many parts of Asia you’re probably ecstatic about ICA coming to the Gold Coast in 2020 because the conference is a shorter flight for you for once, and you know that the Gold Coast is a popular tourist destination with beautiful beaches, great food, and a laid-back vibe.
But let’s face it: if you’re one of our North American or European attendees, you’re debating whether the longer trip is worth the time and expense. I’ll admit that, having been to Australia’s major destinations numerous times over the course of my career (Sydney, Melbourne, diving on the Great Barrier Reef), I was initially “underwhelmed” by the choice of Gold Coast…..until I got there. Here’s a list of the top 10 things that won me over, and they’ll make you regret not going if you sit this one out!
1. Great places to stay. We are contracting two traditional hotel options as well as numerous options for condo/apartment properties. Each type of property (both apartments and traditional hotels) is no more than a ten-minute walk from where sessions are. You won’t need a rail pass or any other type of transportation. For the apartment properties, there are one- and two-bedroom options, and most have balconies (the traditional hotels don’t), great views, a washer/dryer, and a kitchen. What they don’t have (and why they’re cheaper): maid service and room service. At each of these apartment properties, you will be able to get a two bedroom with two twin beds in each room, for instance, to sleep four people total, for a rate that ends up being US$40 per night per person. It doesn’t get more affordable than that! So, what you’re spending extra on a flight, perhaps, you can save on your sleeping arrangements. (a side note: On our planning trip we stayed at a few of the potential hotels, including the Hilton in Surfers Paradise, which is the next neighborhood over from Broadbeach. We do NOT recommend that you stay in the Surfers Paradise area unless you are a big fan of places like Macau and Las Vegas. It is a lot of noise, a lot of neon, and a lot of up-til-4am nightlife. Broadbeach is much more sedate, clean, and quiet. This means for those of you who have been trained to be Hilton-loyal by years of ICA conferences at Hiltons: we do not recommend staying at the Hilton this time, and we are not contracting a block there, as it is located in Surfers Paradise and we did not have a good experience there. You can take the light rail up to Surfers Paradise for nightlife if you wish, but there’s plenty to do in Broadbeach without the hassle).
2. The weather. I can’t emphasize enough that “the beginning of winter” in the Gold Coast is absolutely SUBLIME. On our recent planning visit, it was a month later than the conference will be and the weather only got slightly cool at night. During the day it was nothing short of perfect. PERFECT: blue skies, clear turquoise water, white sand. We landed early morning and spent the day walking around in the sunlight to shake off the jet lag and had no issues at all getting onto local time. The daily high in May averages around 23˚ Celsius and the low average around 13˚Celsius (73˚ to 55˚ Fahrenheit). Open-toed shoes are the norm, but perhaps take a cardigan or light jacket at night. The only time we needed to be more bundled up was out on the water during a morning whale watching expedition, and they have blankets you can use. Speaking of which….
3. The wildlife. The end of the ICA conference is the very beginning of whale watching season, and there are numerous charter companies that take groups out for guaranteed sightings. In all my world travels, I’d somehow never seen a humpback whale up close and we had two breech right next to our boat! It was amazing. Later in the week we went to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and got to cuddle with koalas, feed kangaroos and wallabies, and peek in on Tasmanian Devils and, at Dreamworld, we gawked at the largest crocodile (aptly named Goliath) that anyone has ever seen, about the size of a VW Bus not including the tail. Alive. (Important: we did not cuddle with the crocodile). Rest assured, however, that no creepy crawlies made unwanted appearances, so if your social media habit has led you to have concerns about giant spiders and snakes, no worries. Those things don’t show up in overly populated areas or in hotels/condos near the beach. If you want to have an up close and personal meeting with a giant spider you’ll have to go out into the Gold Coast Hinterland after the conference is over. Sorry to disappoint!
4. Walkability. I am not exaggerating when I say that you can walk out of the front door of the convention center and, at a leisurely pace, have your toes IN THE OCEAN within 14 minutes. I timed it. It’s that compact. Our conference and all of our blocked properties are in the Broadbeach area of Gold Coast, which is maybe 9 blocks tall and four blocks wide, and chock full of great restaurants and coffee shops. All walkable. Once you arrive, you won’t have to set foot in a vehicle again until the conference is over. Think very similar to #ica17 in San Diego, USA, except better restaurants overall and an actual beach, not just a concrete boardwalk.
5. The Coffee & Food. The coffee in the Gold Coast is phenomenal. There are trendy little espresso bars everywhere along the beach. You are offered cappuccino everywhere you go, and it’s delightful. As a result you’ll have So! Much! Energy! (Don’t let President Terry Flew coffee-shame you into going to the lone Starbucks just because you’re from out of town. Resist!). For the foodies, Gold Coast is full of amazing restaurants of every type of cuisine, and very few chains. We had ridiculously good and affordable Thai, Japanese, and Continental lunches, Italian and French dinners, amazing ramen, great gelato, and did I mention the coffee? There are lots of beachfront cafes where you can grab a coffee and pastry in the morning or sit down for an açai bowl in the afternoon. All the food is very “instagrammable” – especially check out the fancier beachside dining at the Burleigh Heads (15 minutes by car) where you can’t move without bumping into a social media influencer, or opt for laid-back fish and chips at the Kurrawa Surf Club (walkable from convention center). Oh and definitely try out Harijuku Gyoza, where you can get savory gyoza for dinner and finish up with dessert gyoza for dessert (salted caramel gyoza with vanilla ice cream was my fave, but Nutella and matcha were obviously popular choices as well…they’re small, get all of them and do a taste test!).
6. The Beach. The Gold Coast has perfectly clear turquoise water with some great wave action for surfing if that’s your thing (waves vary depending on the time of day of course….right as the conference lets out is a good time to go), and white sand beach that is super clean and not crowded (because Australians seem to think this is “winter weather” so the crowds on the actual beach aren’t large). Every day, after we finished our business events, we would go sit in the sand and listen to the waves and just relax for an hour or so before heading to dinner. A great way to cap off a conference day!
7. Fitness/wellness/parks/playgrounds. There are instantly-joinable fitness classes in the beachfront park such as tai chi and yoga, and a ton of bikes for rental. The entire beachfront is bordered by a paved running path set back from the sand, separating the beach from miles of parkland including exercise stations for runners as well as some amazing playgrounds for the kids (one is even encircled by a pedal-powered train on a monorail track!). Gold Coast is a great destination for runners – make sure to follow incoming ICA president and #ica20 planner @claesdevreese and his hashtag #runningwithpresidents for updates on planned group runs! (Warning: he wakes up early and he’s very fast).
8. The sessions! As always, the ICA conference has plenty of top-notch education and collaboration that you won’t want to miss. This year we’ll be split again like in Prague; HOWEVER, the two session venues are more evenly divided and are linked by a covered pedestrian bridge over a canal, so you won’t need to dodge traffic or trip over cobblestones as you rush between sessions. As in Prague, we will ensure that no division or interest group will be split between venues on the same day, to help eliminate the “mad dash” to get to related sessions. The walking time on the pedestrian footbridge is only seven minutes from the door of the Star (14 session rooms) to the door of the GCCEC (18 session rooms). Super easy, PLUS there’s a tree full of bats to look at on your way because #Australia. Both venues are primarily above-ground (no basement ballrooms this year!) with plenty of natural light.
9. Indigenous culture. We hope that many of our divisions and interest groups will take advantage of the rich indigenous culture of Australia and neighboring New Zealand while in this part of the world. We are planning to incorporate indigenous culture and art into the conference wherever possible, including a Welcome to Country and an aboriginal dance performance, so stay tuned for more on that!
10. Side trips! If you can take the time, it just makes sense to budget in a week or two extra to explore more of Australia (or hop over to New Zealand or connect to many destinations in Asia). Go further inland to wineries and camping in the Gold Coast Hinterland, go on a trek through the outback, jot over to Melbourne, fly to Sydney and climb the Harbour Bridge (terrifying and so fun), sunbathe on Bondi Beach…the opportunities are endless.
11. Friendliness. I have to add an extra bullet point, because one of the things that stood out the most was how nice everyone is in Australia; I’ve been five times in the past two decades and I’ve noticed it every time. Qantas and Virgin Australia have the NICEST flight attendants, who actually seem like they want you to have a nice flight rather than acting like drill sergeants. Even the security agents at the Brisbane airport were pleasant, and apologized to Jennifer Le for not having reminded her to remove her laptop from her carry-on (“Not YOUR fault, love! No worries! Take your time”).
In short, Gold Coast makes a business trip feel like a holiday. We’ll be back to our regular schedule, with the opening plenary and reception on Thursday evening, ending on Monday afternoon. We look forward to seeing you there! Trust me: you don’t want to miss this one.