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 M ¯aori people remain an intrinsic part of the region’s culture.
M ¯aori 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 M ¯aori 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 M ¯aori 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 M ¯aori 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 M ¯aori culture is a key element of New Zealand’s society and “a core aspect of who we are as people” The museum’s M ¯aori 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 M ¯aori 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 p ¯owhiri, a traditional M ¯aori 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.”