The number of overseas arrivals for conventions and conferences to New Zealand soared to 66,000 in 2016, up from 63,000 in 2015, according to the latest Convention Delegate Survey, released by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. In total, more than 1.2 million event days were recorded, revealing a 19 per cent increase on the previous year.
CINZ chief executive Sue Sullivan says the part of this success comes from the business events sector’s innovative and targeted approach to attracting events and conferences.
“We know that we’re a small country and we need to set ourselves a part from what happens on the worldwide stage, so we’re seeing innovative ways of presenting auctions,” she says.
“It’s that focussed approach and understanding what the client wants, and knowing if you can deliver or not. When you’re more targeted you’re likely to be more successful.”
But perhaps one of New Zealand’s strongest selling points is not its infrastructure or innovative approach to conferences, but its rich cultural identity. The traditional customs of the Māori people remain an intrinsic part of the region’s culture.
Māori customs and traditions are often incorporated into business events to give international visitors a taste of New Zealand’s history. Sullivan says as part of the Māori culture, “everything’s blessed”, from the food to people, and even exhibition stands.
“At our annual tradeshow CINZ MEETINGS, unbeknownst to exhibitors, the stands will be blessed, and the food would have been blessed as well,” she says. “Nobody will see or know it, it’s just happening because that’s how we are. It’s just innate in what we do and in our hosting.”
Intertwined throughout events and ceremonies are Māori principles like kaitiakitanga, which refers to the guardianship and care of the land.
“We’re always conscious of the land and protecting it for generations to come,” says Sullivan.
“You wrap that into a conference and you’re starting to get sustainability. Gone are the days of handing out a printed program for a conference, it should be an app. Or consider supplying water bottles that can be used again as opposed to plastic cups.”
The Māori principle of hospitality, manaakitanga, means that every guest is treated with the highest respect and made to feel welcome and comfortable.
“We welcome you to our place, we welcome you to our home,” says Sullivan.
“If you talk to the people at Auckland War Memorial Museum, they will say ‘come up to our place’ or ‘we’ll see you at home’. I wondered what they were talking about when I first heard them say it, and they said ‘the Museum, it’s our place, come to our home’.
“That is their style, they welcome you to their venue as if they’re welcoming you into their home.”
Auckland War Memorial Museum has a rich history that dates back to the 1920s and, as head of sales Jenn Haliday will tell you, it’s a favourite amongst locals and visitors alike. While the museum has been developed and updated over time, its cultural influence remains strong throughout the venue.
“It has grown, along with Auckland city, but it’s very iconic and very much loved as an institution,” says Haliday.
“In terms of other venues in Auckland, there’s nothing else like it. We have eight variable spaces, and they’re all quite different from each other.”
Haliday says the Māori culture is a key element of New Zealand’s society and “a core aspect of who we are as people”. The museum’s Māori cultural group perform daily scheduled performances to visitors and are also available after hours for both onsite and offsite events.
“Almost every international group that comes here for their special occasion, conference dinner or welcome cocktail will engage with the Māori cultural group onsite. It’s such a special thing to experience,” she says.
Sullivan says the key to effectively incorporating a cultural element into events is to make it seamless.
During a greeting or a pōwhiri, a traditional Māori welcome ceremony, the speaker will alternate between M ¯aori and English, to ensure everyone understands the proceedings and feels included.
“It has to be seamless, it’s got to be woven in as a part of what you do,” Sullivan says.
“If we can bring that cultural element in in a nice way, it just differentiates us and makes us unique.”
Beginners guide to Māori culture
Kia ora: the traditional greeting of the indigenous Māori people, used to welcome visitors.
Kaitiakitanga: the term used to describe the spiritual bond between Māori and the land. They regard land, soil and water as taonga (treasures). Māori see themselves as the kaitiaki (guardians) of this taonga.
Manaakitanga: the Māori principle of hospitality: that every guest is treated with the highest respect and made to feel welcome, safe and comfortable.
Pōwhiri: a welcome ceremony that provides a special opportunity for visitors to experience Māori traditions in action. A pōwhiri normally takes place on a marae, a meeting ground that sits at the heart of any Māori community.
Hongi: a Māori greeting and the ceremonial touching of noses.
Haka: a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. Haka are a fierce display of a tribe’s pride, strength and unity.
Kapa haka: the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). It involves an emotional and powerful combination of song, dance and chanting.