Hi Isaac! Can you start by telling us a bit about Gabbinbar Homestead and how you came to start your business there?
Gabbinbar was built in 1863 and stands as a showpiece of early Queensland architecture. It’s an historic homestead with a magnificent past but was vacant and run-down when my wife Mel and I first saw it seven years ago.
Despite its tired appearance, we were immediately inspired by its potential – so we took the plunge, restored the gardens, renovated the homestead, and opened in January 2012 as a wedding venue!
What would you describe as Gabbinbar’s most spectacular features?
Coming to Gabbinbar is like leaving behind the modern world and stepping back into the Victorian era … We’re surrounded by suburbia but we’re a hidden, private, 25-hectare estate.
Gabbinbar offers 150-year-old magnolia and oak trees towering over green gardens, welcoming verandahs, an historic ballroom, and a stunning conservatory. We even have a cosy library with an open fireplace.
As Gabbinbar’s director, you go to work at the estate every day. Does it still impress you?
I’ve shown Gabbinbar Homestead to thousands of couples over the years, but the gardens and the home never cease to amaze me. Gabbinbar is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘beautiful place’, and it truly lives up to its name.
What makes a Gabbinbar wedding different from weddings at other venues in Australia or overseas?
When we first opened in 2012 we decided that we wanted to offer something unique. Instead of trying to be a function venue, we offered our couples a magnificent home with exclusive all-day use.
That’s why we have as few rules as possible. Our focus is on exceptional service, an abundance of food, and attention to detail. We stay in the background and encourage our couples to treat Gabbinbar like their own. They simply invite their friends and family to join them at their own private home for the day.
In the past few years you’ve increasingly been hosting wedding parties from interstate and overseas. How has this ‘export’ wedding industry developed for Gabbinbar?
Initially we envisaged our main market would be local Toowoomba couples, but once photos of our weddings started to make wedding magazines, we were inundated with bookings not just from the local area but interstate and internationally. Currently over 95% of our wedding clients originate from outside the local area.
As a regional business, is it hard to market yourself internationally?
Two things have been gamechangers for our business: Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba, which opened in 2014, and digital marketing. The airport gives us easy connectivity to the world, and digital marketing gives us the capacity to market to interstate and international clients.
Twelve months ago we finally abandoned all forms of traditional media and decided to focus 100% on our digital strategy. The cornerstone of a successful digital strategy in the wedding industry is content. We employ numerous staff to produce relevant, engaging and inspirational content and then distribute that content as widely as possible.
Do wedding parties from different cultural backgrounds have different rituals that you’ve needed to incorporate into what Gabbinbar offers?
Yes! This year we have had some amazingly colourful Bollywood-style Indian weddings with smoke bombs and beating drums, numerous tea ceremonies for Chinese weddings and, just recently, our chefs prepared an amazing ‘haggis’ from a sheep’s stomach lining to celebrate a Scottish wedding …
Last week we had a request for roast guinea-pig for a South American celebration. We are not quite sure how to deal with that one yet!
What’s the most unusual request you’ve ever had from a wedding group?
In Indian culture, ceremonies focus on the groom’s arrival, and we were asked to source an elephant for the groom to ride in on. That wasn’t possible, but we did dress up a golf-cart with flowing colourful linen and noisy bells. It looked and sounded pretty amazing. It wasn’t quite the real thing — but we tried!
Has your team grown along with your popularity?
Absolutely. These days Gabbinbar Homestead employs approximately 50 staff, including 6 full-time wedding planners and a wonderful team of chefs led by Austrian Head Chef, Bernhard Kohlhuber.
We host up to 200 weddings a year and generate an average of 400 room nights of accommodation for the city of Toowoomba each week [4 weddings with around 100 guests each] — making Gabbinbar Homestead one of the most significant tourism businesses on the Darling Downs.
Do you have any more plans for spreading the word about Gabbinar to brides and grooms overseas?
I want to specifically target the Asian destination wedding market in 2019. Right now I am working on packaging together the experience. Once that is worked out, I know that digital marketing will be the enabler.
And how about you personally? Do you enjoy being involved with so many couples’ special days? Are you a romantic at heart?!
I am passionate about our couples having an exceptional experience. If their friends and family say to them ‘Best wedding we have ever attended’, then we have been successful.
Am I a romantic? Absolutely! I do wish that Gabbinbar was available for my wife and me when we were married 15 years ago.
If you’re a business that would like advice or support to expand into overseas markets, connect with TIQ today. Businesses in the Toowoomba region should contact our trade and investment advisors in TIQ’s Darling Downs and South West office.