CORPORATE CONFERENCES Christchurch & Queenstown – An unconventional convention success story

No doubt about it, New Zealand is an increasingly attractive convention and conference destination. More local organisations prefer to meet somewhere in their own country and more outsiders head here for secure, scenic and well-organised conference experience.
As Conventions and Incentives New Zealand CEO Alan Trotter points out: “Convention arrivals are running at record high. International arrivals are up 20 percent. Arrivals from Australia are up 30 percent on the same period last year.”
And centres like Christchurch and Queenstown are doing better than most. According to Annette Pendergast of the Christchurch and Canterbury Convention Bureau, the region’s corporate-based conferences business grew 28 percent in the year to June. And similar growth figures are coming out of Queenstown’s conference hotels.
About 10 percent of Christchurch conference delegates come from Australia, five percent are international, 35 percent local and 50 percent domestic, according to Pendergast. The increase in international airline capacity into Christchurch has made it and Queenstown more accessible. And recently millions of dollars have been spent on upgrading hotel accommodation and conference facilities in both centres.
“The city [Christchurch] is both accessible and welcoming,” says Pendergast. “The international airport is only 15 minutes from the city centre and all the city-centre hotels and facilities are in walking distance of each other. There’s no stress, no wasted time and no transport problems.”
Christchurch has consistently invested in top-class venues like the Christchurch Convention Centre – New Zealand’s largest purpose-built convention venue. And the Convention Bureau works with the city and region’s venues and other industry partners to deliver top-level conference experience.
Queenstown, on the other hand, is market that’s high end, with high expectations, and not just focused on serious business. Gourmet picnics on mountain glaciers; banquet dinners in remote, historic goldmining villages; wine experiences; jet boat hotel transfers, and helicopter rides to glaciers, fiords and remote river valleys throughout the region are all, these days, normal part of the Queenstown conference business.
At Rydges Hotel, general manager James Robson says conferencing is showing more growth than the leisure and inbound markets. “In ‘rooms nights’ last year conferencing at Rydges realised 35 percent growth.”
According to John Clarke, Millennium Hotel Queenstown general manager, along with effective marketing, global events and New Zealand’s “safe destination” reputation have been major growth contributors. “Destination Queenstown’s efforts have put us right up there on the global list. As consequence we have certainly seen growth in the conference and incentives market, in particular out of Australia and North America, in the past three years.”
Destination Queenstown’s chief David Kennedy says ease of access with direct flights now coming in from Australia, Auckland and Wellington, has helped.
“The biggest barriers used to be access and cost,” he says. “Now people can fly direct instead of going through Christchurch, and domestic people can afford to come to Queenstown, which helps the conference and incentives market.”
Such growth has raised some issues. According to destination management company HQ New Zealand’s Rob Stewart-McDonald, Queenstown’s current airport facilities are struggling to cope with high numbers, and flight capacity is often factor when company opts in favour of another destination. “The biggest issue for the group market is probably airline capacity into Queenstown.”
There are other infrastructural concerns related to growth. Some locals fear the myriad apartment style accommodation currently coming on stream will bring increased traffic, which in turn will put pressure on key access roads, and many involved in conferencing say apartments simply aren’t suited to that particular market.
However, there is agreement that one major development, Accor Hotel’s five-star Sofitel, due to open in June 2005, will be good thing. “As Queenstown’s first five-star property, Sofitel has the potential to appeal to groups that only ever stay in five-star hotels,” says Stewart-McDonald.
Certainly those attracted to Queenstown for conference and incentive reasons are high-end clients, bringing high expectations. “We are fortunate. They don’t come to Queenstown to discover how to cut company budgets,” says Clarke. “There is good mix of serious conferences and incentives groups. People come here because they have met sales targets, they are successful in their business. This relays back to high expectations.
“This market is more demanding and has higher expectations on product delivery, such as transport to and from activities, foodservice standards, innovation and technology. This business is built on reputation and the hotels and everyone else involved has to deliver high standards.”
In that regard, the high number of repeat bookings handled by the Millennium and other Queenstown hotels is positive, he says.
Millbrook Resort is seeing lot of repeat business, according to sales and marketing coordinator Clare Caunt. “We are hosting lots of United States incentives groups and more company retreats, for smaller senior management. The coming summer is looking very busy.”So just what kinds of “products” are appealing to this high-end, demanding market? Bungy jumping and other traditional adrenalin rush stuff? Apparently not, but there’s no doubting that wine and helicopters have become big features.
“We’re seeing signs of change,” says Clarke. “The icons – Walter Peak, the Earnslaw – are not losing any market share, however people now are looking for individual experiences. We’ll send them to company like Over the Top [for customised helicopter ‘picnic on peak’ or ‘champagne on glacier’ experience] and they will come back to us absolutely raving.”
Helicopters are very popular, as they are good way of getting to places, agrees Joanna Finnigan, sales and marketing manager at the Mercure St Moritz. “We find the conference and incentive market uses wine and ‘soft adventure’ activities. It’s not so much about pure adrenalin, although people will go to watch bungy jump. Wine is very much favoured activity, particularly with the high-end groups.”
Wine is new but sophisticated industry in Central Otago, already producing internationally acclaimed pinot noirs and aromatics. At stylish vineyards, their architecture matching the stark beauty of the surrounding rock gorges and tussock-covered hills, visiting groups are welcomed into character-filled cellar rooms and classy, al fresco restaurants.
Four distinctive seasons is something else Queenstown has to offer, over and above other New Zealand regions, according to Diana McIlwrick, of destination management company Dinamics. “We all know autumn is stunning, and I think spring, with all its smells and blossoms is fantastic.”
Finnigan adds four season’s plaudit. “Winter has become very popular. lot of companies have done Fiji and Australia and the tropical scenario, they are now looking for something different. Delegates can also add pre or post days for alpine sports.”
Availability can be tricky through winter, but Finnigan says June and September are good shoulder months. “My pick when people should come is May and June. Autumn is spectacular, and they will have the town to themselves.”
Whatever the season, Finnigan says groups seek balance between activities and meetings. “There is so much diversity here for conference and incentive groups, and Queenstown operators are very geared up for being different and creating something unique.”
Such as? McIlwrick, Stewart-McDonald and Lee Picken, manager of the Queenstown Conventions Bureau list some recent examples:
• Flying groups on arrival to the top of the Remarkables for champagne and hotel ‘check-ins’.
• Marquee dinners at stunning locatio

Visited 3 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window