April 13, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier | Image: Wellington, New Zealand
With free-flowing quarantine-free travel now reinstated for the fully vaccinated between Australia and New Zealand, there is much positivity amongst New Zealand’s business events industry.
“It means everything,” says Lisa Hopkins, chief executive of flagship industry association Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA) of the border reopening.
“By eliminating self-isolation for international visitors, it sent a strong message throughout the industry that there is hope. If our sector has hope, that trickles down to other parts of our industry, accommodation, hospitality, tourism and you start to see a wave of optimism begin.
“We can’t wait to see Australians make the trip across the Tasman to attend a conference or incentive. It’s the old saying, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ and we have really felt the loss of our Australian and international manuhiri (visitors),” said Hopkins.
In Christchurch, the mood is one of great excitement for both the business events bureau and the city’s new convention centre, Te Pae Christchurch which officially kicked off the wave of new “next-generation” convention centres opening in New Zealand between 2021 and 2025.
“The border being open is essential for our business, and indeed the wider business events industry to survive and thrive,” says general manager of Te Pae, Ross Steele.
“We, like many in our industry have been eagerly awaiting this day and with a number of Australasian conferences on the books for the second half of this year we’re looking forward to being able to host events for our Australia-based clients and their delegates.
“The whole team is of course looking forward to welcoming Australian guests through the doors of Australasia’s newest convention centre.
“With a unique architectural and cultural story, and a focus on showcasing a true taste of our region, we aim to provide delegates with an experience unlike any other,” says Steele.
Head of business events at ChristchurchNZ Megan Crum says the border reopening will be felt across the city.
“The opening of the New Zealand border to Australia brings the business events community in Christchurch a sense of great excitement – and relief that we have the opportunity to travel, tempered with the reality that we know business events need lead-in time,” she says.
“The opening of the border is having a huge impact on the city from every point of view – our business connections and tourism opportunities are set to flourish again.
“From a business events perspective, we have seen exceptional interest from Australian event organisers, with $10 million of bid opportunities in the pipeline over the past few weeks since we visited AIME [the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event in Melbourne in March].”
The border reopening comes as Christchurch is celebrating its regeneration following the devastating earthquake in 2011, which saw two thirds of the buildings in the central business district demolished. The second largest city in New Zealand has spent over a decade rebuilding, with the pinnacle for the business events industry – the opening of the convention centre – taking place in December 2021.
Crum points out that Christchurch is an ideal business events city, with New Zealand’s second largest airport 15 minutes’ drive from the city, and the compact layout of Christchurch making it a walkable city for delegates. In the city centre and beyond it, there are plenty of experiences for delegates to enjoy, she says.
In New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, there is also an eagerness to show off the city’s development over the past two years to Australian business events planners and delegates.
“We can’t wait to show you what’s new in Wellington,” says Business Events Wellington Manager Irette Ferreira.
“For Wellington as capital city of New Zealand the links with Australia are critical to the way our nations work together.
“Being once again able to host collaborative business events in Wellington including our Aussie whanau is a big step back to normality and reacquainting ourselves with colleagues, peers and partners from across the Tasman.
“With the border open we’ll also be working with Australian clients to host new events in Wellington that will be able to enjoy Tākina, the Wellington Convention and Exhibition Centre.
“The local construction team have been making great progress and delivery is on schedule,” says Ferreira.
The second of New Zealand’s new convention centres, when Tākina opens in mid-2023, it will provide 10,000m2 of event space in the centre of the city for conferences of up to 1,600 delegates.
In Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, a strong business pipeline and new and renewed business events infrastructure is underpinning the optimism of the border reopening.
“We have been working closely with Australian event organisers and have a strong pipeline of events booked for Auckland in the coming few months, and the bureau and industry are thrilled to be welcoming our neighbours back,” says Auckland Convention Bureau manager Ken Pereira.
“Auckland has seen some exciting transformations in the past 12 months, seeing developments across our city with new dining, entertainment, and shopping precincts, along with several venue refurbishments and international hotels to add to our offering.
“Auckland is a growing city that offers increasingly more for event organisers and delegates alike and we are sure that it will feel like a new city for our international friends.
“We are well prepared and ready for the border opening and are primed to support events to take place and help bring our countries close together again.
“We have a pipeline of major, cultural, and sporting events in the city in the next 12 months, providing opportunities across multiple sectors for collaboration, connection, and entertainment,” says Pereira.
In Queenstown the industry is also feeling ready and refreshed to welcome business events back to New Zealand’s “adventure capital”.
“All the suppliers we have been speaking to are ready to welcome Australian business events and delegates back,” says Queenstown’s business development and convention bureau director Kiran Nambiar.
“After nearly two years, we are ready to show why Queenstown is bigger and better than ever and still one of the world’s leading business event destinations.
“There’s been significant investment in accommodation offerings, activities and facilities over the past two years – not only are we able to offer our business visitors new and refreshed facilities, but we have also increased capacity to cater for the demand.
“With airlines confirming an increase in flights between Australia and Queenstown, everything is aligning.”
In the last four years, accommodation capacity in Queenstown has increased 38 per cent. Offerings like the new Holiday Inn Holiday Inn Queenstown Remarkables Park and The Carlin, an exclusive boutique six-star property, offer options for a variety of business events budgets and purposes in Queenstown.
“Apart from the economic impact of the pandemic, business tourism is in the DNA of all our business operators, and more than anything they look forward to playing host again, welcoming our business guests in warm Kiwi fashion and doing what we love and do best,” says Nambiar.
In Rotorua as the North Island destination begins to welcome Australians back, collaboration is the name of the game.
“The entire business events local network have been working collaboratively together to define who we are as a destination and how we can best work together to continue providing the world with first-class event provision. We are absolutely ready for business!” says Vanessa Wallace, business development manager for business events at RotoruaNZ.
“Borders reopening are absolutely critical for our visitor industry, as well as our identity, as we have always been a destination that has welcomed visitors.”
Like many other parts of New Zeland, Rotorua has undergone development during the two years and counting of the pandemic.
The destination got its first five-star hotel in a new Pullman in the city centre, which opened just before the pandemic was declared, the lakefront has been redeveloped and a new mountain biking hub has been completed in the forest. A multi-million-dollar spa is set to open on the lakefront later this year while the performing arts venue, the Sir Howard Morrison Centre will reopen after significant renovation this year too.
“Following on from AIME in Melbourne recently, we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from buyers that Rotorua continues to be a very attractive destination, even with the uncertainty of international travel and safety, New Zealand remains very appealing to the Australian market,” says Wallace.
Back at BEIA, Hopkins says the border closure, keeping New Zealanders in and the rest of the world out has allowed new business events destinations to emerge amongst New Zealand’s regions.
“The shutting of the border, in or out, created a new opportunity for our smaller regions to stand up and truly shine for the domestic market.
“The feedback from customers has been strong, with many not realising what they had in their own backyard.
“It also meant industry was able to provide constructive feedback, where necessary, to ensure regions, services and products were ready for international visitors.
“I would suggest for any business event planner to consider New Zealand as truly being a dual destination, with a gateway city (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown) and consider pairing that with a smaller region for the ultimate in experience,” says Hopkins.