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New Zealand boxing clever

New Zealand has been investing in its meetings infrastructure, writes Rochelle Long, and now it’s starting to punch above its weight….

As a country that often trades on its natural good looks for tourism business, New Zealand has been out to prove it has brains as well as beauty to target the business events market.

Linking with local industry thought-leaders, building new events infrastructure, and playing up to New Zealand’s personable reputation – safe, secure, politically stable, multicultural, welcoming – have seen it progressively shifting up the list of preferred conference destinations for associations, breaking into the top 50 countries in ICCA’s last annual rankings (47th).

It still has all the ‘bucket list’ attractions that round out an itinerary and entice international delegates – stunning landscapes, Māori cultural experiences, and diverse activities, from bungy jumping to wine tasting – but investment in its conference infrastructure is starting to pay dividends.

The New Zealand International Convention Centre construction rolls on for a scheduled 2019 completion. It will bring 32,500sqm of event floor space to Auckland’s CBD and convention capacity of 3,150, with New Zealand’s largest theatre seating 2,850. Already it has won a swathe of international events in the 1,000-3,000 delegate category that New Zealand has been keen to secure but hasn’t previously had the capacity to hold.

These include four-large scale medical conferences in 2020 alone: The World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) Asia Pacific Region Conference (2,000 delegates), The Tripartite Colorectal Meeting (1,200), the International Association for Prevention of Blindness (2,000) and Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology (3,500). Additionally, that year the NZICC will welcome some 1,200 delegates for the World Veterinary Congress, and 2,000 people to the World Congress of the International Union of Food Science and Technology.

With the Christchurch Convention Centre now underway for a 2020 opening, complete with tiered 1,400-delegate auditorium and banquet hall seating 1,250, New Zealand’s offering is that much more appealing to the mid-sized association group.

Indeed, Michelle Crowley, Senior Director Global Development and Partnerships at PCMA (the Professional Convention Management Association) believes the country is at a turning point for attracting international conventions. Alongside new infrastructure and increasing air access, part of its success has been attracting events and visitors that relate to key industries.

“I think it’s quite impressive how tied in Tourism New Zealand and the government are in terms of realising the role of immigration and economic development in destination marketing,” she notes.

“In New Zealand you have great universities, great industries, and being able to connect groups coming in with that is critically important.”

At a presentation in Auckland she told the gathering of local business events personnel: “New Zealand realistically is not going to get thousands and thousands of huge events, but you have such strong niches you can win business because you are stronger than your competition in terms of offering that knowledge economy.”

Lisa Gardiner, Manager Business Events and Premium at Tourism New Zealand, concurs:

We find we have the most success in bidding for conferences related to sectors New Zealand excels in on the global stage, such as the marine industries, agribusiness, health science and high value foods.”

Other areas of world-leading research and innovation include earth science, aviation, ICT, screen and digital, and tourism.

Crowley adds that New Zealand’s warm welcome and ease of access also set it apart; an important factor when you consider that 58 per cent of the respondents to Convene’s most recent Annual Meetings Market Survey said it was more difficult to obtain visas for delegates than the previous year. New Zealand currently offers visa-free access to nationals of 59 countries. Additionally, it has introduced a Business Events Visa programme to aid access for delegates from China, India, Thailand and Indonesia.

New Zealand’s broadminded approach to knowledge sharing will see it host influential lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer event the ILGA World Conference in Wellington in 2019; lure the world’s preeminent Indigenous Studies conference, NAISA, away from the US and Canada for the first time to Waikato in 2019; and welcome the International Association for the History of Religions to Dunedin in 2020.

“Business events deliver millions of dollars to the New Zealand and event destination economy and put New Zealand on the world stage as research and thought leaders,” Gardiner says. As such, Tourism New Zealand offers support to international association organisers, including fully funded site inspections and familiarisation tours. “The industry has a reputation for working together to create memorable events that international event organisers want, and delegates want to attend.”

CASE STUDY

Innovative and enterprising

Christchurch hosted the largest ever Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in September 2017, welcoming some 1,600 social entrepreneurs, policy makers, community leaders, investors, and academics from 30 countries. The city, which is rebuilding architecturally, environmentally, economically and socially following the 2011 earthquakes, proved a model host for investigating ways communities can innovate and build a positive, sustainable future. The three-day, six-stream event incorporated multiple venues, including the Isaac Theatre Royal, The Piano, Art Gallery and Christchurch City Council headquarters. To accommodate the numbers, organisers the Ākina Foundation livestreamed key plenaries and ran another stream of practical workshops in the innovation precinct. A further 3,000 people were reached through the Transitional City programme that offered free public talks and tours of local social enterprises to showcase Christchurch and its people.