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PNA GRAND TOUR: The Story So Far: Cairns

Cairns Central

SCN recently met with the team, Eddie and Jon from Property Network of Australia and they had a lot to say about North Queensland. They have taken it upon themselves to get to know the industry by visiting centres across the country. This week they share with us their September tour of Cairns and their insights on the shopping centre landscape way up north – and it’s thriving!

1639km each way… but this time we cheated and took a plane to complete the Cairns and Far North Queensland leg of The PNA Grand Tour!

On this leg, we visited Far North Queensland specifically the major shopping centres in Cairns.

The PNA Tour in Cairns

Cairns and Far North Queensland – Economy
When you arrive in Cairns it’s clear this is a tourist destination. Right from the moment you see the pictures in the airport of the Daintree Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef, palm trees, beaches and all those Crocs… (even for a couple of well-travelled Poms) it feels like we have landed in Australia!!!

With a population of just over 150,000 people its immediately evident that for Cairns, the tourism industry is vital in driving the local economy. Retail certainly benefits from the tourism trade, but local landlords are reluctant to be too excited, even with the development pipeline of major projects including the $120 million port expansion, three new 5-star hotels, and a $650 million eco-resort. With this exciting pipeline on the horizon there is still a sentiment that Cairns is yet another regional town oversaturated with retail and although it’s hard to disagree, we have certainly seen worse on our travels.

The Retail Landscape
Retail is split relatively evenly across the town with shopping centres clearly servicing defined north, central and southern population hubs with Cairns Central the main benefactor of the tourism trade given its central location. Designed by Lendlease, we heard many positive comments about its innovative original design promoting smooth foot traffic flows and good lines of sight through the malls and utilisation of natural light which is certainly impressive. Given how well it trades, it’s probably about time it upgraded its outer signage which was a bit dated as well as consider some façade upgrades to bring in up to date with its major regional competitors in Rockhampton and Townsville… that said it is a great Centre and great team who made us feel very welcome during our tour!

This centre certainly benefits from the tourist trade so the key to sales staying consistent and growing is the ability for those living in mainland China to be able to fly direct to Cairns.

Outside the CBD
Of the rest, Dexus and Stockland have shopping centres to the north and south of the city respectively, both with challenges but also lots of potential. Having now visited the majority of Stockland’s regional based assets across QLD, it’s important to highlight what a good job they have done in developing fit-for-purpose centres in these locations. Most have few vacancies, if not fully leased and in each location we visited, they certainly have a ‘local shopping offering’ and have managed to attract the big retail players to their centres. The Cairns site benefited from some strategic and clever leasing deals and marketing activation campaigns. Well done to the Stockland Cairns team! We loved the introduction of the new outdoor dining precinct at Smithfield and with the view overlooking the rainforest it will surely be a go to destination for those living north of the City. It literally did feel like you where sitting in the tropics eating your dumplings instead of a shopping centre dining precinct.

Surprisingly, Green Group’s Mount Sheridan Plaza was possibly our favourite centre given its presentation particularly when comparing it to its sister, Station Square, in Maryborough.  This centre has benefited from some innovative and first to market brand and marketing campaigns, executed on modest budgets with total originality. Well done to the team there who left us feeling overwhelmingly positive about life in retail, Cairns and life in general…

Special mention must go to Sentinel and DFO Cairn. They have done what they do best and taken a property they saw with huge potential and invested in some smart capital expenditure adding significant value add potential. With new tenancies open and leasing deals signed for new operators, DFood looks like it’s going to be an awesome new outdoor food precinct, complemented by a large childrens play area and a huge outdoor TV screen. We will certainly check it out next time we are back.

Of all our destinations on the trip we loved the Northern Beaches and in particular Palm Cove! There was talk of an office here at one point after a few drinks so who knows!! Clifton Village, although quite a tired centre was acquired in late 2017 by the Indigenous REIT fund which is simply a fantastic concept. For those that don’t know, it provides the opportunity for wholesale Indigenous investors to invest in the partnership with other Indigenous groups in an actively managed property fund. Having being set up in 2013 and now holding assets under management of circa $150m is certainly well worth a mention, read more here. 


One thing is clear, Cairns has a huge and certainly saturated food offering. Not just in the CBD but also the trendy esplanade in Palm Cove. Amongst them were some crackers like Howlin Jays at The Pier and the Spice Bite Indian Cuisine, whose Chicken Jalfrezi, is up there as one of the best curries we have sampled throughout our travels! (us poms love a curry) Unfortunately though, along with Dundee’s and Waterfront Bar and Grill on the sea front, these options were in the minority. Food in the CBD is catering for the traveller market meaning food courts like Smithfield’s but more impressively at Barr Street Markets are the future food offerings for the local market in Cairns – this city simply needs more like the below!

Engage the community
Community marketing activity is clearly the most effective way to engage with the local regional communities. Once again we found that those centres who engaged the most with their local customers will delivered the best results. The best marketing campaign we saw was at Mount Sheridan Plaza where the team gave away 5,000 hardwearing branded bags in response to the change in legislation relating to plastic carrier bags, in exchange for an email address – 2 months before the plastic bags where banned. Again, first to market and nice big bags for shoppers to fill! Win-win!

Mall Commercialisation of the Future
More and more on our tour we are seeing the use of digital screens in centres as a core component of pop up activity. The screen below made for an impressive centrepiece in the Cairns Central mall and is certainly enhancing the customer experience in that centre. The screens not only entertains shoppers, but also facilitates community engagement through localised messaging, thereby genuinely enhancing the customer experience. There was recently a great article about this in the Shopping Centre News which is worth reading about Lendlease’s digital network.

Lendlease’s Digital Network

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