Shiny suits and grey zip-up shoes were
de rigueur. Where an interfering pack of politicians made life easy for themselves and as unpleasant as possible for everyone else. Wellington was perceived as that sort of place even five years ago.
Something to skite about
What’s happened? Wellingtonians have come out of the closet. No longer feeling inferior to Rust City, they have, in the words of Mayor Mark Blumsky: “Something to skite about!”
Wellington has come of age.
Its citizenry has started to believe in itself!
It’s realised its folks are more highly educated – three universities are represented now. They have higher achievements and have more infectious entrepreneurial spirit that anywhere in the country. huge personality shift, indeed…
In fact, Wellington now promotes itself as Smart City for its e-commerce and IT know-how.
Almost as an aside, some claim it as the Hollywood of New Zealand. If Mayor Blumsky is to be believed, so many films are being produced there.
The industry is worth up to $400 million year. More than 3300 individuals work on movies, including the latest, The Lord of the Rings, currently the world’s most expensive – and the brainchild of local boy Peter Jackson.
The city’s change-of-face started in the 1980s when, as Persuasion advertising director Eugene Doyle says, Wellington was “one up on Bosnia as desirable tourism destination”.
Former Tourism Minister Fran Wilde, who became mayor, had the vision to change things.
But according to hotelier Simon Jamieson it was her successor – Blumsky – who “put practicality to that vision”.
Rob McIntyre of Totally Wellington – the body charged with promoting the city – says it all started during the post-stockmarket-crash shakeout.
“A lot of people were changing careers. People were moving out of Government and looking for opportunities to set up business,” he recalls.
“At the same time Wellington City Council had positive regulations in terms of people being able to open new places. That kicked-off the product development and we saw an explosion of cafes.”
Then came the memorable Absolutely Positively Wellington campaign, targeted at Wellingtonians, which not only started to change the local perception of the capital but how other New Zealanders viewed the city as well. People started telling Wellingtonians what wonderful city they had!”
McIntyre says the campaign worked because it had total backing from council, Wellington Newspapers and Saatchi & Saatchi. Then, in 1995, newly-reorganised Tourism Wellington came out with the Send Yourself To Wellington campaign.
Adds McIntyre: “It was strategically identified that, no matter what we did, there was no point charging off, getting excited about international tourism marketing if we didn’t fix the situation with the domestic market where Wellington had low perception.”
So, Tourism Wellington turned to another city with similar image – Melbourne – for answers.
“We looked at Tourism Victoria’s strategy and how they went about changing perceptions. Obviously, they had budget bigger than Tourism New Zealand’s. So we had to work about applying it differently,” he says.
Wellington’s problem was that whilst its hotels were full during the week, its rooms echoed at weekends because no one was in them.
McIntyre: “So Send Yourself… focused on making Wellington desirable weekend destination. We went out and said that so much has changed and we have great hotel rates – and that’s reason why you should come…
“The campaign evolved into ?you know about the hotel rates now there’s key reasons to visit’.
“Most research shows that the domestic market is events-focused. That’s what stimulates people to travel.
“[As result] we have seen hotel profitability become the highest in the country. By 1998 figures showed that we had overtaken Rotorua as the fourth busiest destination. And in May this year we were third busiest, ahead of Queenstown.”
The Send Yourself To Wellington campaign has trebled into $1.5 million project with hotels, airlines and Te Papa becoming “key investors”.
Paralleling this, the Wellington international marketing group, consisting of the above supporters, plus Lambton Harbour, Tranz Rail and others, developed into the Centre Stage of New Zealand – fashionable “macro region”.
It’s active worldwide today, and full-time staff also represent Nelson, Marlborough, Wairarapa and Kapiti.
McIntyre says that while Te Papa has attracted thousands to the capital, events like the city’s Festival of the Arts – and now the 35,000-seat stadium – are also pulling in the punters.
Centre Stage is success because there’s growth, not just in Wellington, but in the regions as well. “We’ve seen growth in market share and visitation in each of the regions,” McIntyre adds. “It means that growth is dispersing. The key to that growth is market share. Everyone has share in growth in international visitor nights, because New Zealand is doing so well. But our share of the total grew 4.1 percent, when our target was just to maintain market share.”
Nightlife outstrips others
He’s delighted that Wellington attracts people, partly because of the night life. “That’s one reason for their coming, but it’s starting to outstrip some of the other things which are considered key attractions.”
Wellington is benefiting as destination, thanks to additional infrastructure like Museum of Wellington City and Sea, new art galleries dotted around the CBD, and refurbished Parliament.
Totally Wellington is also working on attracting more events and conventions.
“Anything that pulls people into town will have good incremental economic impact,” he points out.
The city has developed “clusters of excellence” in the arts, education, nationhood – including Parliament, Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace and Te Papa – sports and venues and wine and food. Marketing coordinators are employed fulltime by Totally Wellington to liaise with each of these sectors, through formal agreements.
Also, the downtown area has been developed into different “quarters”.
There’s Lambton Quarter, the indulgent concentrated corporate and shopping area with retailers such as Whitcoulls, Country Road and London Books. Willis Quarter is stimulating, intellectual and more for the locals with shops like Unity Books, plus the library and local fashion designers. Cuba Quarter has artists and exudes more funky alternative atmosphere and has its own community energy. Courtenay Quarter is non-stop cosmopolitan entertainment fullstop. McIntyre says tourism has strong support from the city council because Tourism Victoria CEO Bob Annells has conducted workshops with the mayor, senior managers and councillors on key committees such as economic development and arts.
Totally Wellington has spent much time and money developing an effective website, too. McIntyre is confident it will continue to outstrip sites run by competitors.
Totally Wellington, in its desire to make the capital more vigorous education centre, wants the city’s history and importance included in school curriculums “the way Washington is held up in the US, so schools need to make pilgrimage here to understand the national identity”, according to McIntyre.
The Capital Language Academy and Education Wellington International are good at their own international marketing, but McIntyre says, Totally Wellington wants to step things up.
Totally Wellington receives $3.6 million this year for events funding, of which $250,000 goes into the International Festival of the Arts fund every six months.
Totally Wellington will maintain the Send Yourself To Wellington campaign while working, amongst other things, to attract conventions of up to 1200 delegates. The city has recently won business of between $500,000 and $1 million per event. Currently bid is in for $5 mi