By Brad Foster

Global head of marketing of international business events and premium at Tourism New Zealand, Lisa Gardiner, and her team are remaining positive of a strong bounce back in the sector. She spoke to Brad Foster this week.

Right now New Zealand is the envy of the world. No COVID-19 in sight. Restrictions have eased and, if they want to, people can come together and meet again.

During their strict lockdown measures it was business as usual for Tourism NZ. And, thanks to the long lead-times of international conferences, there’s been plenty to do, with bidding being undertaken to keep the pipeline of international conferences strong.

“We have had success, too,” Lisa Gardiner says.

“Christchurch was recently awarded the prestigious 2022 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces, the first time the event will be held in the Southern Hemisphere.

“The short-term uncertainty has resulted in some major conferences postponing their events and we have been working with them to accommodate those changes.”

Tourism NZ has also been making the most of technology to keep the country front of mind.

“While our borders have been closed, we have been embracing technology to keep New Zealand top of mind with potential buyers. Our Singapore and South East Asia and Americas teams recently hosted virtual fam trips so that buyers who were due to be hosted here could still get a taste of New Zealand. The exclusive webinars saw participants treated (virtually) to Josh Emett’s Pavlova-making skills, Te Puia storytelling, Real Country farm life and serenading by the Modern Maori Quartet. We had really positive feedback, which was wonderful.

“We have also ensured we keep talking to the international business events community. We recently hosted a webinar with ICCA as part of our Association Relations Partnership, and 19 suppliers from the New Zealand industry joined Tourism New Zealand in participating in the virtual PlanetIMEX event.”

In terms of business in the shorter term, it’s all about the domestic market and, like many bureaux around the world, Tourism NZ is placing extra effort on the local scene.

“A focus on domestic business events has seen us go to market with a survey of New Zealand-based event organisers to gauge their concerns, plans and opportunities,” Ms Gardiner explains.

“​Tourism New Zealand has also been convening with the Business Events Industry Leadership group, which includes CINZ, RTOs, convention centres and Air New Zealand. The group will consider how the industry can collaborate to ensure domestic business returns as soon as practical and what needs to be done to support this.

“This aligns with the overall Tourism New Zealand focus: pivoting to domestic in the short-term, while ensuring the New Zealand brand remains strong around the world.”

To that end, Tourism New Zealand recently launched the #dosomethingnewnz campaign to encourage New Zealanders to explore their own backyard.

“We are also providing assistance to our local tourism operators to help keep their businesses up and running so that they can continue to provide amazing experiences once the visitor volume builds up again.

“This pause in inbound tourism has also provided time to reflect on the future of tourism. Tourism New Zealand is playing a major role in ‘reimagining’ the industry, to ensure tourism is a sustainable industry that enriches the lives of New Zealanders. We believe business events, due to the high-value visitors they attract in terms of knowledge, networking, and impact, will play an important part in this future.”

Strategies moving forward

“We want to keep our tourism offering strong,” Ms Gardiner says.

“The new Tourism Advisory Support Service, coordinated by Qualmark and run alongside MBIE, will provide information and support for businesses preparing for the domestic market, trans-Tasman tourism and moving in and out of hibernation. Tourism New Zealand funding will also be used to stimulate domestic tourism across the country, and provide new tools, data and insights for the sector.

“On the global front, work is underway preparing international market response plans in advance of our borders reopening.”

When business events will resume in New Zealand could be soon if research Tourism New Zealand has undertaken is anything to go by.

“Our recent survey of more than 230 New Zealand organisations who hold business events was extremely optimistic, if (understandably) tempered by uncertainty. Of those surveyed, 94 per cent were still planning to hold a business event in the next 18 months, though these were likely to be smaller and perhaps with a reduced budget compared to pre Covid-19 activity. There is more focus on health and safety, and a greater move towards teleconferencing technologies.

“However, 79 per cent of respondents consider face-to-face conferences and offsite meetings important for their organisation, so that is really positive for the future of our industry.”

I then ask Ms Gardiner if she can get her crystal ball out and give me any indication on when borders between New Zealand and Australia may open. I’m hoping here that she may have some inside knowledge. But she doesn’t, or at least she’s not saying.

“The so-called ‘Trans-Tasman’ bubble is featuring heavily in government planning on both sides of the Tasman, and it is probably more of a case of when it will happen, rather than if.

“Once those details have been sorted out, we will definitely look to embrace more Australasian and regional events. We actually confirmed an Australasian event in the health sector for Auckland 2021 during lockdown, so this is a great indication of the confidence of the market to meet again.”

I ask finally, how the team has been coping during this period. Are they staying positive and connected?

“It has certainly been hard not seeing people face-to-face in our industry, but we have remained well connected with online meetings. Tourism New Zealand has held weekly Exec Chats for the whole company to stay involved, and we have a Yammer system which has been fantastic for sharing positive news in-house. We even started a weekly buddy system, ‘Whānau Connection & Kōrero!’ that pairs up two people from across the globe to ‘meet’ virtually and get to know a bit more about each other, which has been fun.

“In New Zealand, we live by a value called ‘Tiaki’. It means that we all feel a special connection to the land we come from and a duty of care to protect it. While we can’t see you in person right now, rest assured we are taking care of our place ready to welcome you again someday soon.”