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New-build convention centres, increased air capacity, and a marketing focus highlighting regional strengths, such as agribusiness, high value foods, health science, marine industries and engineering, are combining to pique worldwide interest in business events in New Zealand, writes Kathy Ombler.

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Photo from left: Outdoor adventures in Queenstown; artist’s impression of NZICC in Auckland; Hobbiton.

Photo from left: Outdoor adventures in Queenstown; artist’s impression of NZICC in Auckland; Hobbiton.

“Australian business event organisers now consider New Zealand a domestic destination,” says Lisa Gardiner, manager business events and premium, Tourism New Zealand.

“This, along with favourable exchange rates and increased air capacity has led to recent growth in the Australian market. “Holding an event in New Zealand can be as cost effective as in other locations in Australia. For eastern seaboard areas like Victoria, this is especially the case with recent figures showing a 47 per cent increase in business arrivals.”

Conference and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ) aims to capitalise on increased trans-Tasman air capacity and to target “untapped markets” Adelaide and Perth, says CINZ Australia manager, Sharon Auld. “With an increase in direct air capacity to Auckland and Christchurch and a 14 per cent increase in arrivals to year-end June 2016, we are focusing on building relationships and short-term business opportunities with the PCO, event management and corporate markets in Australia.

“CINZ, in conjunction with Air New Zealand, is visiting Adelaide and Perth in November to explore what has been a largely untapped market for business events,” she adds.

Auckland has moved into the International Convention and Congress Association (ICCA) top 100 City Ranking index, which measures the number of international association events held around the world. This highlights just how popular we are as a destination for business events, says Auckland Convention Bureau manager Anna Hayward.

“There is also a lot of interest internationally in the new New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) and we are working together on a number of promising leads. We’re continuing to see good growth out of the Australian market,” she adds. Auckland hotel development includes New Zealand’s first Grand Millennium Hotel, which opened in September in what was formerly the Rendezvous Grand Hotel. The ASB Waterfront Theatre, a purpose-built performing art and convention facility encompassing a 600-seat theatre, bar, café, gallery space and meeting rooms, has also opened in the city’s Wynyard Quarter.

Business events are tracking well for Hamilton & Waikato, with the region now ranked fourth in terms of national market share for delegate days, says Hamilton & Waikato Convention Bureau manager Amanda Graham. Major international conferences are booking to take advantage of the region’s strengths, for example Waikato is one of the country’s most productive farming regions, along with special off-site attractions such as the Hobbiton Movie Set and Waitomo Caves.

At the Waitomo Caves, Discover Waitomo is adding a new, in-cave dining experience – where up to 20 guests will be wined and dined inside the Aranui Cave. This will be
a fitting experience for the incentive market, says Graham. Discover Waitomo also offers the Waitomo Glowworm Caves Performance Package, which includes live opera in the Cathedral Cave, famous for its acoustics, a cave tour by boat all followed by dinner. Wellington is also on a roll and reporting good forward bookings, with Canberra a particular focus for promotion, says Wellington Business Events and Partnerships manager Jessica Beyeler.

“The arrival of Singapore Airlines providing direct services to Canberra has sparked a flurry of enquiries out of the Canberra market. In December our trade team will host a dedicated event in Canberra to capitalise on this interest and opportunity,” she says. Two new hotels, Sofitel Wellington and the Park Hotel, have come online bringing more “much-needed” beds in Wellington to accommodate larger-scale conferences.

A 134-room airport hotel, to be managed by Rydges, is due to open in late 2017. Meanwhile in August, city councillors approved a striking new exterior design (along with its extra $15 million price tag), for the proposed new Wellington Convention Centre and Movie Museum. The 1100 seat convention centre, with its radical design based around Maori mythology and Wellington’s marine location, is due to open in 2019.

International business events are locking into Christchurch as well with work on the new Christchurch convention centre underway, new air services announced and new international hotels continuing to open. The Christchurch Centre, due to open in late 2019, has already booked two major events, expected to bring a total 900 biology and engineering experts to New Zealand. Christchurch & Canterbury Convention Bureau manager Caroline Blanchfield says these exemplify how Christchurch is playing to its strengths.

Five new international hotels with 800 brand rooms will open in Christchurch within the next two years. These include AccorHotels’ new-build 200-room Novotel at Christchurch Airport, which will encompass function and meeting space, and a new 78-room Sebel hotel complex, near Victoria Street. IHG’s 204-room Crowne Plaza, adjacent to the new convention centre, is due to open in mid-2017 and a 120 room Holiday Inn Express will open in Gloucester Street in late 2018. Distinction Hotels is redeveloping the 179-room former Millennium Hotel building in Cathedral Square, to be named Distinction Christchurch. In other developments the massive Christchurch Adventure Park (358 hectares of mountain bike trails, rock climbing, zip-line, with restaurants and purpose-built accommodation in the city’s Port Hills), is due to open in December.

With the world’s first high-speed chairlift for bikers and their bikes (1.8km long, climbing 430m), the park will appeal for off-site activity and eam building adventures. Another city with plenty of activities on offer is Queenstown, which is becoming so popular that Australian conference and incentive groups are advised to book their events in the quieter shoulder seasons of April/May and September/October, says Queenstown Convention Bureau manager Regan Pearce.

“There is also an industry wide shift to longer lead in times, [with] Australian business already locking in events for 2018/19,” he adds. Easy air access is helping drive the business, with four airlines offering year round direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

“The commencement of the new Jetstar MEL-ZQN night flight this year has seen a huge increase in arrivals from Australia. Domestic connectivity with a night flight addition from Auckland has also been a great success.” The conference activity is also set to rise once the new 600-delegate Convention Centre Remarkables Park comes online, with resource consent for the proposed expected any day now. Meanwhile Skyline Queenstown has announced a massive $60 million redevelopment program, which includes near doubling its capacity for conferences and events to cater for up to 770 delegates.

Skyline also proposes to replace its existing four-seat gondola system with a state-of-the-art 10-seat gondola; expand Stratosfare Restaurant from 330 seats to 650 with multiple dining options; replace and double the size of the Skyline Luge chairlift and more than quadruple the size of the viewing deck. Hotel development includes the addition of a QT boutique hotel at Rydges Queenstown.

The new QT will offer 69 rooms, three new conference rooms and its own entrance and reception. Completion is planned for Feb 2017. Meanwhile Rydges Queenstown is undergoing a full refurbishment.

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  • Published: 10 months ago on December 1, 2016
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  • Last Modified: December 1, 2016 @ 1:49 pm
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