It’s all about the experience

With the New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland and Te Pae Christchurch expected to open in 2020, and Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre now in the planning, New Zealand is ready to take on a bigger share of the international multi-day convention market. And the local industry is working hard to ensure the experience is world-class.

ew Zealand is welcoming more international conferences than ever before, according to New Zealand’s tourism marketing organisation, Tourism New Zealand.

Tourism NZ said in mid-May that New Zealand’s popularity as an international conference hosting destination was growing, with data from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranking New Zealand at 46th in the world as a conference destination, up five places on 2017, and 12th in Asia Pacific.

“New Zealand is punching above its weight as a conference destination winning more conference business than ever before,” Tourism New Zealand business events global manager, Anna Fennessy, said in a media release.

New Zealand hosted 64 international conferences in 2018. In FY18 Tourism New Zealand’s conference wins were worth $49.5 million to New Zealand’s economy.

“Business events deliver significant economic benefits to our communities, they also allow for knowledge share between global and Kiwi experts and get New Zealand expertise on the world stage.”

Meanwhile Conventions and Incentives New Zealand has just completed its business events industry showcase, CINZ MEETINGS 2019 which bought together more than 190 suppliers and 500 conference, event and incentive organisers in Auckland in late May.

Conventions and Incentives New Zealand chief executive, Sue Sullivan, sees New Zealand as a sought-after conference, incentive and event destination. “We are friendly, hospitable, innovative and great to do business with. This makes our industry a significant generator of income, employment, investment and knowledge-sharing for New Zealand.”  

She said that with the New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) in Auckland and Te Pae Christchurch to open in 2020, and Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre now in the planning, “New Zealand is ready to take on a bigger share of the international multi-day convention market. Regional New Zealand will also benefit from these new venues, as large conferences book to take their sub-conferences to venues outside of the main centres.”

She told Management that the international buyers at MEETINGS were very much looking for the experience. “A venue is a venue but they are looking for the experiences wrapped around that venue.” They want to know about the region, the local culture, the food, and what makes Auckland different to Sydney, as a conference venue.

She says conference organisers are looking for more knowledge around what enhances the venue itself.

Sustainability within the venue is even more critical and healthy food along with wellbeing and wellness also feature high on international organisers’ must-have list. And this is an area the New Zealand industry is concentrating hard on.

The food offering needs to reflect all types of dietary requirements and it also needs to be culturally appropriate for the broader range of delegates the big international conferences bring in, she says.

At MEETINGS, Sullivan says the international buyers were impressed with the very cohesive marketing across New Zealand’s incentives and conferences sector with destination marketing taking precedence over regional or venue marketing. 

She says too the regions are popular for smaller breakout interest groups from larger conferences  held in the main centres.   

 

INSPIRATION AND IDEAS

Sometimes where a conference is held can help fuel the creative thinking. 

Conferences are more than just a gathering of a group of industry peers or people with a shared interest or profession, they are also a rich source of ideas and inspiration from the speakers, other delegates or just from the chance to experience another environment and get the creative juices flowing.

Shelley Eastwood, the director of sales, conference and incentives for Heritage Hotel Management, says the environment a conference or executive team strategy meeting is held in can make all the difference. 

“Sometimes that environment can actually fuel the thinking and the networking.”

Eastwood points to Heritage Cromwell property on the shores of Lake Dunstan in Central Otago, as a case in point.

A new experience in a beautiful location helps attendees gain a different mindset, she says, noting attendees can fly into Queenstown with Cromwell a 45-minute drive away.

The group manages 19 properties, ranging from the 16 suite Heritage Collection Marlborough Vintners Hotel in Blenheim through to the Rutherford Hotel in Nelson which can cater for a 700-person conference. 

She says it surprises a lot of people that there is such a big conference hotel in a regional area. It’s popular with association conferences, because of ease of access to Nelson.  

The flagship hotel, Heritage Auckland, is one of the city’s most recognisable historic landmark buildings, the iconic Farmers department store building.  With 10 meeting rooms, the flexible space can cater for small meetings to a 300-person conference.  She says the majority of the function space has natural light which is sought after.

Eastwood say the group is strong domestically in conferencing, business retreats or team getaways and in the last few years it has seen real interest in their regional offerings, especially for smaller groups of around 50 to 60 for a corporate conference or inhouse company event.  

Another area where Eastwood is seeing growing interest is the eight hotels in the group where the conference can have sole use of the hotel which, she says, makes for an exciting opportunity for a conference organiser. 

While the hotels do need a bit more lead time for this, Eastwood says it means the conference attendees have total privacy with no one else in the hotel and they can have their own branding throughout the hotel’s public spaces. 

However the size of the hotel needs to suit the demand, she says. An Australian group has booked the entire three wings of Heritage Queenstown for four nights in August this year.

As to the cities versus regions, she says it depends on what the conference organisers need to achieve.

In a city, more flight options and potential local attendees may mean greater delegate numbers or the organisers may want to add more content to the programme and include a variety of diverse activities, that might only be found in a city.   

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