Conferences & Seminars Spoilt for Choice – Where to hold your next conference

Our conference organisers have never had it so good. The choice and calibre of venues means there’s facility that’s ideal for every occasion. Consequently, the conference and seminar industry is growing at an unprecedented rate. Demand is outstripping supply.
The growth is not simply response to local bookings. The world’s interest in coming to New Zealand is fuelled by combination of the security breaches, which plague the international business community, and movies like The Lord of the Rings, which effectively promote our clean, green wide open spaces. Just the spot for safe, secure and environmentally pleasing business convention.
Alan Trotter, CEO of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand, reports record offshore convention arrivals last year. “Corporates have lot of money invested in their management staff, and international organisations, including the medical and scientific community, are attracted by our safe and stable environment, and our non-aligned foreign policy,” says Trotter.
The Australians in particular love coming here – of the 50,000 delegates that visited in 2003, little under 60 percent were from across the Tasman.
Some New Zealand organisations may be tempted to meet in Australia, with transTasman fares so cheap, but Trotter believes that the new airline environment is having generally positive impact on our conference industry, particularly in the regions. “The new Express fares are helping drive costs down, and centres like Christchurch and Queenstown are now in the ballpark for organisers,” he says.
The outlook for 2004 and beyond is just as rosy. CINZ is keen to boost the number s of overseas delegates coming here to even higher levels. Its Conference Assistance Programme (CAP) has been developed to assist New Zealand businesses and organisations to bid for and host conference in New Zealand. The results to date are impressive. According to Trotter, for every $1000 invested in CAP, there has been return of more than $1 million.

New benchmarks
New Zealand is not just great place to stage conference. It also boasts world-class facilities.
Some of the industry’s biggest investments are in Auckland. The Edge, Sky City, and the Aotea Centre for instance. Sky City’s new international standard Conference Centre is set to wow delegates for years to come. Opening for its first function this month, the Centre caters for up to 2000 – or 4000 for cocktails – and bristles with state-of-the-art technology, including motorised projection screens, wireless connection, high-speed broadband, and full videoconferencing and web-casting capability.
Maxine Wallis, sales manager conferences and events at Sky City, says interest in Sky City, and New Zealand, as conference destination was up significantly at the recent AIME trade show in Australia. “For us, the arrival of additional international airlines such as Emirates is bonus. With two or three airlines collaborating to fly in delegates from overseas, access is now more favourable than before.”
The Bruce Mason Centre, on Auckland’s North Shore, has recently completed total refurbishment, lifting its theatre capacity by more than 200 to 1164. The Centre, which offers comprehensive conference package including PCO and in-house technical service and support, specialises in theming. CEO Gillian Houser says people still talk about their “Moulin Rouge” theme staged for the Meetings New Zealand trade show.
And it seems New Zealand theming has had resurgence in popularity. According to Maureen Brennan, general manager business tourism for Tourism Auckland, “International conferences, conventions and incentives revel in some ‘Kiwiana-style’ content in their programmes, which could include anything from traditional Maori welcomes, to haka in which guest speakers or management teams participate.”
Auckland’s hotels have also made conference services major priority. Hyatt Regency Auckland is now one of the largest inner-city residential conferencing and banqueting hotels, hosting conferences of up to 600 delegates.
Like number of other venues, the Hyatt partners with audiovisual provider Staging Connections, to offer leading-edge presentation technology for conferences and seminars. “International conference organisers expect the latest in presentation technology as most professional speakers and course conductors are used to this form of technology,” says Franz Mascarenhas, Hyatt Regency’s director of marketing.
Also in the CBD, Crowne Plaza Auckland is promoting its conference services and facilities. Its “Meeting Success” programme is designed specifically for planners, facilitators and delegates, and features rapid – no more than two hours – response to all conference enquiries. All Crowne Plaza hotels appointed meetings director in 2003 – one point of contact to overlook all activities associated with planning and holding meetings.
Rydges central Auckland hotel caters for the conference market offering four large rooms that can cater for up to 300 delegates. Two fully equipped boardrooms as well as leading-edge videoconferencing facilities are also available.
For event organisers daunted by Auckland’s range of venue options, good starting point is the Auckland Convention Bureau. Most major metropolitan centres have dedicated bureau to handle enquiries, and contact details are available through the CINZ website at www.conventionsnz.com.
New Zealand’s other main centres are also well prepared for the growing conference market.
Wellington’s InterContinental recently refurbished nine function rooms and invested $500,000 in new décor and technology. Each room offers wireless high-speed internet connection, catering for presenters who prefer to run their presentations direct from the internet. Videoconferencing is also available virtually on demand, and the emphasis is on being one-stop shop for event organisers. The hotel’s willingness to go that extra mile was demonstrated last year when its chefs consulted leading Chinese restaurant to ensure it offered authentic meals to major Chinese delegation.
Another recently refurbished Wellington venue is the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor. It features six meeting rooms, wireless Café Net connection and in-house massage boutique. Conference sales manager Kristyn Liddelow reports strong bookings from overseas, particularly Australia. “We have large number of biennial conferences booked for 2004, and delegates coming from as far afield as the UK.”
With its international airport and excellent choice of conference venues, it’s not surprising that Christchurch is the conference hub of the South Island. Even Ashburton, satellite town less than an hour’s drive away is capitalising on the fact. Together with the Chancellor Resort Hotel in Methven, Terrace Downs High Country Resort, and number of other venues, Tourism Ashburton has formed ‘cluster’ to attract organisations wanting to confer in quieter locality. In the words of spokesperson – “close enough for driving comfort, but too far for dele-gates to go home at night”.
Meanwhile back in Christchurch there is wide variety of conference venues including the Millennium Hotel, where the mezzanine-situated conference facility is undergoing facelift. With views over Cathedral Square, luxury accommodation, and catering for up to 200 people theatre-style, it’s proving to be popular South Island conference venue.

The call of the regions
Conference organisers wanting to stage events far from the maddening crowd can choose from vast range of venues. These include city-fringe facilities like Auckland’s Formosa Country Club. Just 35 minutes from downtown the Club offers quiet, distraction-free, rural/coastal setting, Bob Charles-designed golf course and conference facilities for up to 250.
But Formosa is just one of an increasing number of resort-style venues open for conference and seminar business in some of the country’s most scenic locations.
One example is less than two hours drive from

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