Building on its strengths

New Zealand may have closed its borders for two years during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it didn’t stop the ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ from bolstering its reputation as a world-class conference destination, as Holly Patrick explains...

Aerial View of Auckland City featuring ocean and Harbour Bridge, South Island Lantern Business Forum and Family punting Te Pae, (Photo credit: Nancy Zhou)

Aerial View of Auckland City featuring ocean and Harbour Bridge, South Island Lantern Business Forum and Family punting Te Pae, (Photo credit: Nancy Zhou)

Organisers of international association meetings are looking at New Zealand and giving it the thumbs up. In the last financial year, New Zealand won 34 conferences, estimated to be worth NZD41.6m.

Some impressive meetings have been secured, including the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) in Christchurch in 2024, which will highlight indigenous communications, and WIPCE 2025 – the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education, taking place in Auckland. WIPCE is the largest, most diverse Indigenous education forum in the world, and is expected to attract some 3,000 representatives. Dunedin, the ‘unofficial wildlife capital of New Zealand’ has won the International Deer Biology Congress in 2026, and Wellington has leveraged its academic reputation to secure the International Annual Conference on Computer Human Interaction (OzCHI 2023) and the 15th Linguistic Landscapes Workshop in 2024.

So, what’s behind this success?

Several factors including a burgeoning conference venue portfolio, a world-class reputation in several knowledge sectors, and a well-established conference ambassador programme, are pushing organisers towards New Zealand.

The country’s infrastructure revolution is underway, too, with new convention centres springing up in three of the country's biggest cities – Auckland (Tāmaki Makaurau) and Wellington (Te Whanganui a Tara) on the North Island, and Christchurch (Ōtautahi) on the South Island.

Scenic Landscape Mt Victoria Panorama, (Photo Credit: Johnny Hendrikus)

Library and Tower (Pic credit: Eli Franssens)

Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre opened in 2022. It sits in the heart of South Island’s largest city and is just a short drive from Christchurch Airport, as is the rest of the compact, walkable city. Its exterior is designed to reflect its natural surroundings with the herringbone-style tiles reflecting the braided rivers that carve through Canterbury.

The venue has 24 meeting rooms, a 1,400-seat auditorium, a 200-booth exhibition hall, a riverside banquet room, VIP spaces and organiser offices. Christchurch offers 2,500 hotel rooms, most of which are within a ten-minute walk of the convention centre. “We have a solid event calendar again for this year, including the Asian Seed Congress from 20-24 November 2023, and in future years, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Annual Scientific Congress in 2024; the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS) and the International Association of Geomorphologists (IAG) Conference, both in 2026 to name a few,” said Te Pae general manager Ross Steele.

Tākina Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre is scheduled to open in late May and will add an impressive venue to New Zealand’s cool, compact, capital city. Once open, the centre will offer 18,000 sqm of event facilities. The three-floor venue, its Māori name meaning ‘to invoke, to summon, to connect,’ will cater for conferences and exhibitions between 400 and 1,600 delegates.

The top two floors can host meetings and conventions across 10,000 sqm of flexible space. The ground floor will include a 1,280sqm Exhibition Gallery. Tākina’s sustainable design efforts meant it was the first convention centre to achieve the country’s first five-star NZGBC Green Star Design rating. Tākina already has 100 conferences and events on the calendar from opening through to the end of 2026. Forthcoming events in 2023 include the Australasia Organic Geochemistry Conference and the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum.

A few unforeseen setbacks mean that Auckland’s New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC), will make its grand entrance onto the international meetings stage a little later than expected, but it will be worth the wait. When NZICC opens in 2025 in the SkyCity complex in the heart of Auckland’s Central Business District, it will be the country’s largest purpose-built venue, able to accommodate events of up to 4,000 people and a theatre-style setup of around 3,000. NZICC is short walk from universities, business hubs, innovation precincts, 6,000 hotel rooms and entertainment precincts.

With a population of 1.6 million and growing, Auckland is the financial and economic powerhouse of New Zealand, generating almost 40 per cent of the country’s GDP. It’s also the nation’s tech hub, with 60 per cent of New Zealand's top 200 tech companies based here.

New Zealand’s recent conference infrastructure boom caught the eye of Australia’s oldest professional congress organiser, ICMS Australasia (ICMSA), which has opened its first overseas office in Christchurch. “In recent years we have been approached by our clients - particularly associations – to manage their events in New Zealand,” ICMSA owner and managing director, Emma Bowyer said. “The opening of Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, the Tākina Wellington Convention & Exhibition Centre coming online this year, and excitement building for SkyCity’s New Zealand International Convention Centre bodes well for a strong business pipeline.”

South Island Lantern Business Forum

South Island Lantern Business Forum

Tākina Wellington Convention and Exhibition centre exterior render Cable St

Cycling in Leuven, Belgium (Pic credit: Tobias Cornille)

"Excitement building for SkyCity’s New Zealand International Convention Centre bodes well for a strong business pipeline"

ICMSA managing director Emma Bowyer

People walking the rainbow crossing at Cuba-Street (Photo credit: Celeste Fontein)

People walking the rainbow crossing at Cuba-Street (Photo credit: Celeste Fontein)

Building on a strong knowledge economy

New Zealand is a world leader in sectors such as high-value manufacturing, technology, tourism, agribusiness, earth and health sciences, food, and wine.

As part of Tourism New Zealand’s approach to legacy its looks to attract conferences that will have a positive impact on New Zealand’s economy, society, environment, or culture. To do this, it works closely with academia and industry to attract new conferences and knowledge sectors. This collaboration is evident through its regional ambassador programmes, which engage field experts working in sectors ranging from robotics to pest management, cyber security to autism research, to help bring conferences to the county. The bid to bring the International Association of Geomorphologists (IAG) Conference to Christchurch in 2026, for example, was driven by Dr McColl from GNS Science, Professor Ian Fuller of Massey University, and Professor James Shulmeister, head of school of Earth and Environment at the University of Canterbury.

Bjoern Spreitzer, Tourism New Zealand general manager NZ and Business Events, said Tourism New Zealand had been working with the Geoscience Society of New Zealand to encourage more bids for international conferences in the earth sciences sector. “New Zealand’s expertise in geoscience, together with the ‘natural laboratory’ of our landscapes and our strong event infrastructure and support, makes us an excellent destination for business events in this field.”

Similarly, the internationally recognised expertise of Victoria University of Wellington’s (VUW) School of Design Innovation, Museum and Heritage Studies, and School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies played a major role in attracting OzCHI 2023 and the 15th Linguistic Landscapes Workshop in 2024, to the capital. “Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington is a key driver of Wellington’s knowledge economy,” sad Business Events Wellington manager Irette Ferreira. “The internationally recognised expertise of the faculty plays a major role in attracting international conferences to the capital. These conferences boost local knowledge by bringing global thought leaders to the city, while simultaneously showcasing Wellington’s knowledge strengths and creating opportunities for collaboration. They’re a win for the university, for Wellington, and New Zealand.”

Exemplifying Tourism New Zealand’s approach to conference legacy is the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) annual conference taking place in Christchurch at Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre in July 2024. Not only will it deliver an estimated NZ$1.6m to the economy, but it will also put Indigenous knowledge at the centre of communication research. University of Canterbury’s (UC) bid for the conference was submitted in partnership with mana whenua (the local tribe), with the support of ChristchurchNZ and Tourism New Zealand. The conference theme ‘Whiria te tangata | Weave the people together: Communicative projects of decolonising, engaging, and listening,’ invites reflection on the terms and models of contemporary communication, including the political and moral goals embedded in them.

Professor Donald Matheson, the lead academic bringing the conference to Ōtautahi Christchurch, said: “Holding the conference in Aotearoa (New Zealand) is a chance to put decolonising communication and Indigenous media at the heart of academic thinking. It’s also a chance for this country to share our experience of partnership between mana whenua and settler society. It’s also about manaaki. Mana whenua and the university are teaming up to welcome our manuhiri (visitors) and provide an exceptional experience attendees won’t forget.” 

Building on its existing strengths while continuing to invest heavily in meeting venue infrastructure provides a sturdy cornerstone for New Zealand to carry on attracting international associations meetings.

Wellington Harbour Wellington (Photo credit: Ian Trafford)

Wellington Harbour Wellington (Photo credit: Ian-Trafford)

BE Walking near Te Pae

BE Walking near Te Pae

"New Zealand’s expertise in geoscience, together with the ‘natural laboratory’ of our landscapes and our strong event infrastructure and support, makes us an excellent destination for business events in this field"

Bjoern Spreitzer, Tourism New Zealand general manager, NZ and Business Events

Man holding up beaker in research lab

Man holding up beaker in research lab

Case Study:

Auckland hosts 8th IWG World Conference on Women & Sport

  • Venue: Te Pokapū Aotea Centre
  • Where: Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland
  • When: 14-17 November 2022
  • Who: 1,850 delegates from 90 countries; 79 per cent in person and 21 per cent virtual

Auckland hosted the 8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport, attracting 1850 participants – the largest ever IWG event – shining a spotlight on youth and Indigenous voices.

Held at Te Pokapū Aotea Centre, the conference incorporated more than 50 speakers, 220 workshops and talks, online fitness classes, local adventures and an off-site indigenous event. Voices at the table were diverse, from the Saudi Olympic committee, World Rugby, to male allies; IOC member Prince Faisal bin Hussein of Jordan, New Zealand athlete Dame Valerie Adams, and the youngest ever IWG speaker, 17-year-old Maia Mariner.

Dubbed ‘the fourth Women’s World Cup’ event the IWG World Conference capitalised on a wave of popular attention on women’s sport in New Zealand, host to games in the ICC Women's Cricket World Cup in 2022; the hugely successful 2022 Rugby World Cup - won by New Zealand women’s team the Black Ferns two nights before the conference in front of a record-breaking crowd at Auckland’s Eden Park; and the FIFA Women’s World Cup this year.

Nicky van den Bos, acting CEO of conference host Women in Sport Aotearoa, Ngā Wāhine Hākinakina o Aotearoa, said: “Those three major events are great at doing the ‘see her be her’ work to drive awareness but beyond that the business end needs to stand up – the HOW. The IWG World Conference put a spotlight on what still needs to change – getting things like diversity in leadership, commercialising women’s sport and equitable facilities, on the radar.”

8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport

8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport

Legacy project

The conference delivered an estimated 4,526 visitor nights and NZ$1.64m boost to the visitor economy for Auckland and New Zealand. But its legacy extended far further, bringing international expertise to New Zealand and the potential to build collaborations for IWG’s goal of advancing gender equity and equality in sports and physical recreation for women and girls.

As part of its legacy project, WISPA gifted IWG the online Insight Hub developed during its secretariat. The one-stop shop is now a publicly held resource of free tools and information on issues ranging from women in governance to gender responsive guidelines for sport organisations.

As part of a longer-term impact plan, WISPA has also traced evidence of change through a pre and post conference survey on Gender Equity. Findings included 80 per cent percent of respondents expanded their women and girls sport network as a result of attending the event and 93 per cent were most likely or highly likely to implement positive change.

Equity of voices

Indigeneity was a strong focus of the bi-lingual conference and organisers were shepherded through the best way to integrate Māori values, content and culture into proceedings. The first Indigenous-focused initiative in IWG’s 29-year history took place at the Auckland event, with a First Nations Workshop held at Ōrākei Marae attracting 115 participants from 19 countries to provide a voice for Indigenous perspectives. As well as a focus on incorporating youth voices in the speaker line up, WISPA gave 76 scholarships to young leaders and Māori Kōhine (girls) to attend the conference, to empower the next generation of New Zealanders.

 

8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport

8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport

8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport

8th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women & Sport