‘Opportunities always look bigger going … than coming’.
These wise words of contemporary Chinese philosophy cut straight to the core of the conversation with gifted Gold Coast restaurateur Simon Gloftis and leading legal eagle Tony Hickey as we overlook the beautiful Burleigh beach and stunning Surfers Paradise skyline from the inspiring atmosphere of The Fish House.
Simon, as we know, is a man on a mission: intent on utilising his extensive network to promote the Gold Coast as a desirable dining destination that can match it internationally for premium-quality cosmopolitan cuisine and six-star service.
Tony, similarly, sees the city as being beyond the cusp of transformational change firmly driven by the fundamental sectors of international tourism and foreign investment.
“Things got very real during the GFC and, now more than ever, Gold Coasters understand the importance of investment to our economy,” says Simon. “The flow-on benefits of high-quality developments such as those underway across the city right now present some fantastic opportunities for us all … and that’s why I’ve asked Tony to be here for this discussion – he’s not only one of the most successful business identities on the Gold Coast, he’s also one of the most passionate and most respected people here too.”
Foreign investment, of course, is a speciality for the talented Tony Hickey – senior partner in Hickey Lawyers. With 34 years of experience in business on the Coast, Tony has seen the fluctuating highs and lows of our dynamic economy … and now spends a great deal of time flying into Asia highlighting the region’s tremendous potential directly to international investment syndicates.
“Our city is not sustainable without tourism and foreign investment – they are both good for our economy and they always have been,” he says. “If people are scared of that they should start looking to live elsewhere because this change is real … it is already happening.”
Tony says the Chinese, in particular, have huge wealth and are very sophisticated in the way they do business – both public and private companies with extraordinary success in resources, management, mining and property now have both a mandate and a motivation to invest in quality tourism projects in major cities right around the world.
He says we are very well placed to benefit from the international appeal of the Gold Coast.
“Foreign investors identify our city and region with a wonderful lifestyle – sun, surf, fresh air and clean water – and therein is enormous opportunity for them, and for us, to work together on premium projects with integrated residential and retail attractions,” he says. “We are talking first-class and extremely high-end developments that will leave a lasting legacy and sustain growth across all areas of our economy for many years to come.”
It’s here that yet another Chinese proverb comes to mind: ‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. This quite accurately reflects Simon’s meticulous planning for both his restaurants, The Fish House at Burleigh and Hellenika at Nobby Beach, and will, no doubt, also play an integral role in his next, as yet undisclosed, fine-dining foray.
It also mirrors, says Tony, the astute approach to iconic development projects of Asian investors throughout South East Queensland. Examples include the new Crystal Jewel on Old Burleigh Road being developed by cashed-up Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, the Broadwater casino concept from the Singapore-based ASF Consortium, and the integrated tourism resorts Hong Kong-based Sheraton Mirage Resort owner Tony Fung, of the Aquis group.
There’s also the Forise Holdings concept for the former Iluka Resort site at Surfers Paradise, with which Tony tells me he has a close connection. “What I can say is what has been reported and that it will be the tallest residential apartment building on the Gold Coast, bigger than Q1, and that it will be an iconic building with cutting-edge design and amazing external lighting,” he says. Construction starts early next year.
Tony says investors of all levels see these very successful developers making significant investments in South East Queensland and their confidence is contagious.
“There is quite a lot of interest domestically and internationally in the Gold Coast,” he says. “And it’s very important to note that these people know the value of being seen as good developers and reputable members of our community – they know that if you mess with the environment, you are not a good developer and will limit your future opportunities.”
Simon notes that Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate also sees the benefits of international investment, even spending his own money to spruik the city’s prime potential overseas in a concerted bid to drive growth, jobs and opportunity here at home.
“It’s great that the Mayor of our City is seen to be supportive of good-quality investment in our region and that he is so accessible,” he says. “I actually approached Tom recently with an issue I was having with the council and although the outcome was not what I wanted, at least I got an answer back quickly … that’s what’s needed for people to feel confident in investing here on the Gold Coast.”
The momentum of change is set to continue for the foreseeable future – factor in light rail, Sunland Group’s residential investments at Mermaid Waters, and at Main Beach that will gift a modern art museum to the Gold Coast, as well as direct flights to China, Japan and Singapore, the new arts and cultural precinct at Evandale, and major upgrades at the Oasis and Pacific Fair shopping centres, and Jupiter’s Casino.
Which brings us back to opportunity …
“Simon really did start a revolution with his restaurant offerings and certainly set a new direction for dining on the Gold Coast,” says Tony. “We now see the next generation of restaurant entrepreneurs bringing positive change to the city’s cultural cuisine and that really is a good thing – it’s a positive difference.
“He has led the charge to developing further choices and that suits the Asian investor perfectly – they really do value sharing a delicious meal with their families and business associated – it is here that they build trust, which this leads to good business.”
Simon says the Gold Coast should give careful consideration as to what it means to be a globally recognised tourism destination.
“If we are a genuine international tourist destination, then we need to be able to offer a dining experience of a genuine international standard,” he says. “That, in the first instance, means looking after our locals because they are the ones who bring their visitors and clients here to experience all that we have to offer … and they become the best ambassadors for our city.
“What Tony is essentially saying is that international tourists love what the locals have – they want a piece of it and they want to play a role in helping to take our city to the next level.
“That can only be a good thing.”
So does all this suggest Simon has already decided on his next restaurant venture?
“I could do a million things but I do what I do not because I can, but because it’s the right thing to do,” he says with a smile. “Maybe that story is one for the next edition of Ocean Road.”
And so we’ll finish with another Chinese proverb: ‘If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.’