At home or abroad Where will you conference this year?

The pros and cons of staying at home
as opposed to going offshore for your conference have long been an issue for debate and with good incentives flowing from each corner, the decision doesn’t get any easier.
But those with finger in the huge conventions and incentives pie agree that it really comes down to simple question. Why are you holding the conference and what should it achieve?

Why confer?
Once you analyse whether it’s team building exercise, an incentive for staff, reward, thank you for clients, training session, serious business meeting, bonding mission for personnel and their families or just an annual jolly – the appropriate venue becomes more obvious.
Being clear about your objectives is what Jan Tonkin of The Conference Company puts at the top of her list. “Once we establish what company wants to achieve and who their target audience is, we can determine venue that will provide the best arena. Conferences are hugely powerful communication tool and you have to look at what is the best environment to make that happen,” she says.

Don’t leave home
And there are lot of people with vested interest in making it happen right here in New Zealand. The convention and incentives business contributes around $240 million to the New Zealand economy. Of that figure, 85 percent is domestically based – that is, New Zealand organisations having conferences in New Zealand.
Alan Trotter, chief executive of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand represents related companies in the field here, including hotels, tourist organisations, lodges, convention centres, professional conference organisers, airlines and tour operators. Trotter can list host of good reasons for staying onshore for your company conference. But he’s also realistic enough to acknowledge that New Zealanders are much travelled people and there is little that can be done to stop them being wooed by offshore destinations.
“We have to be pragmatic about it but our job is to proactively persuade people to stay within New Zealand as well as concentrate on inbound marketing. What we do say to companies is that they ought to adopt due diligence when making the decision about where to conference,” says Trotter.
Cost is big factor in the decision and Trotter believes it is often used unfairly to justify an overseas excursion. “Very seldom are apples compared with apples. Often people talk about how it is cheaper to take group to Queensland than to Queenstown but figures are often misquoted and fiddled to defend pre-determined position. They’ll quote international package deals against full published internal airfares and it just isn’t realistic. If you do true analysis using the skills and deals available – and all airlines are prepared to do deals with group bookings – in very few instances is it cheaper to go overseas as opposed to staying in New Zealand for your conference,” he says.

The wow factor
Some companies claim it’s difficult to put price on the “wow factor” of an exotic location.
June Gordon-Dill, of Destinations of Distinction, lists the Fiji Islands as the favoured choice for x-factor conferences. She has Blue Lagoon Cruises, the Vomo Island Resort and Toberua Island on her distinctive destinations file. “You have to admit that going out of New Zealand is lot more exciting – it’s the whole thing of overseas travel, buying your duty free, flying, cultural differences – it’s big for the people who haven’t done it before and if you are looking at rewards that can be very important,” she says.
Gordon-Dill says chartering luxury boat to cruise the remote Fijian Islands could cost around $330 (all inclusive per person per day) compared with Waiheke Island resort at $230 or an upmarket South Island resort at $392.
She says companies that conference overseas don’t do it every year but go every second or third year and choose domestic locations in between. Easy access to Fiji is major plus – “you can fly there in the time that it takes you to drive to Taupo”.
But driving to location like Taupo or other such destinations – particularly those within easy reach of Auckland – certainly appeals to other companies, and recent trends show tendency towards holding conferences at the weekend to allow family involvement.
Climate is another major determining factor in choosing conference destination and Australia’s Gold and Sunshine Coasts have great appeal for New Zealand companies wanting warm weather, good facilities, short flying time and flexible schedules. Kate Strange, manager of market development for the Australian Tourist Commission, says research shows the weather plays big part in companies choosing to conference in northern Australia.
The ATC markets number of different destinations and offers specialist advice and assistance – often working directly with companies, particularly those with head offices in Australia, who may be organising the conference there. Strange lists the extensive conference options in all parts of Australia, huge convention centres and the large infrastructure as advantages to companies choosing the country as their conference destination.
“We also find that there is big pre and post conference spin off with many delegates taking partners, wives or families with them to enjoy all the other experiences on offer,” she says.
Resorts like the Hyatt Coolum on Australia’s Sunshine Coast and the Hyatt Regency at Sanctuary Cove have realised the need and not only provide top class conference facilities but plenty to keep non-conferencing personnel entertained as well. Golf courses and other recreational facilities – such as health/beauty/spa amenities and relaxation areas – along with easy access to local shopping and commercial areas have determined the popularity of such resorts. Their ability to theme events, offer sophisticated technology and dedicated conference and banquet facilities have ensured significant growth there in recent years.
Millbrook Resort in Queenstown has also earned strong reputation for wide ranging facilities that have ensured steady demand both nationally and internationally. And the environmental qualities of the region have the ability to capture even the most seasoned Kiwi conference goers. Wairakei Resort in Taupo enjoys similar status with summer and winter pursuits on the doorstep as well as strategic geographical advantage.
Annabel Lush responsible for Air NZ Events Sponsorship says New Zealanders are often blown away by places that may be on their doorstep.
“For Aucklanders say, going to Queenstown, is such different experience. It’s like being in another country and they wake up in moment of panic worrying that they’ve forgotten to change their currency! The perception is that because these places are within New Zealand they aren’t exotic. Yet the reality is quite different,” says Lush.
One of New Zealand’s newest facilities is the Heritage Hanmer Springs which has already hosted two conferences since the doors opened in February. The former Hanmer Lodge has been restored to accommodate 38 quality rooms in extensively landscaped grounds that also house further 27 garden suites and villas. The resort is known internationally as place to “take the waters” and the Heritage Hanmer Springs is developing into “wellness spa” with facilities for beauty treatments and health regimes. Skiing, golf, hunting, fishing, white water rafting, mountain biking and jet boating – along with the resort’s ability to provide full conference facilities – are likely to make this popular destination for national and international companies.
And regardless of the actual conference facilities it is extra activities in the surrounding area that can often sway companies when choosing venue. Jan Tonkin says that interacting with the environment can be an essential part of making good conference work. “You probably don’t want to be in the boardroom or class room the whole time so there needs to be other things on offer. And for overse

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