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Meet the GM: Te Pae Christchurch’s Ross Steele on cultural narratives and a sense of place for delegates

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Meet the GM: Te Pae Christchurch’s Ross Steele on cultural narratives and a sense of place for delegates
Following their recent announcement of achieving Toitū net carbon zero certification significantly earlier than anticipated, general manager of Te Pae Christchurch, Ross Steele, says it’s just one of several attributes that connect delegates to the centre.

From his start in finance, he’s spent a large portion of his career in Queensland at both the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and at Cairns Convention Centre, working his way up to become the GM of the latter.

 “I was general manager up there for around 12 years and had a wonderful time with a wonderful venue. It’s an amazing venue up there, which has now undergone expansion, but during that time, we won the World’s Best Congress Centre [from the International Association of Congress Centres]. So that’s probably the highlight for me in 2014,” he explains.

“The opportunity came in 2019 for me to move over to Christchurch and Te Pae. Christchurch was a regeneration project and for me, if you want to go and make a difference to a city, then opening a building in a city that is under regeneration was going to be something exciting. So for me, it was wonderful,” he says, adding that the fact his wife was able to return to her home of New Zealand was also a big plus.

Steele says that it’s not just the beauty of the centre, but the narrative around it that makes it so remarkable.

“It’s a beautiful building; it’s a new building, and it’s a purpose-built convention centre. It’s international standard and of all the venues that I’ve been involved with, I think the quality of the fit-out is probably the best that I’ve seen,” he says.

“We’ve got this wonderful facility to start with and then the thing that sets it apart is the cultural narrative in the building. The name Te Pae has a number of meanings in Te Reo Māori [the Indigenous language of New Zealand]. So Te Pae Maunga is the view of the mountains. Te Pae Whenua is the view of the plains and the land around and then Te Pae Tangata – that means the artist’s bench, or a place to meet and exchange ideas and knowledge. And so we’ve been gifted a name that really represents what we do as a convention centre.

“Then when you have a look at the building and you see the Māori connections within, whether it’s Te Ngutu out the front, which is our ceremonial entrance way, which, if you look at Marae, where the iwi people meet, it’s an entranceway like that. And we’ve got a beautiful one.

“The cultural connection through that building is something that’s really unique,” he says. “And then the architectural overlay. There’s 40,000 tiles on the outside of our building and they represent the stones of the braided rivers of the Canterbury region where we live. The windows represent all the waterways. If you were to see a photo of the Waimakariri River, for example, in Canterbury, next to our building, you’ll go ‘that’s exactly where it comes from’.

“So when you come, you have a real taste, a real sense of place for connect of Māori and iwi and then the architectural landscape. I think that’s really unique in a building,” Steele says, adding that it creates a genuine sense of place for delegates. Paired with an investment in sourcing local produce and what they call manaakitanga, or local hospitality, delegates are certain to get a genuine New Zealand experience.

Steele says often delegates spend so little time outside the conference venue space that it was essential for them to “pack the space with as much destination identity” as possible with the added cultural history.

Meet the GM: Te Pae Christchurch’s Ross Steele on cultural narratives and a sense of place for delegates
Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre

The centre is certainly getting attention globally with the recent Asian Seed Congress, one of the world’s largest agricultural events, held at Te Pae. Their multi-day itinerary included a fun run in the local park raising money for local charities to give back to the city.

Steele says that while giving back is certainly a trend that’s on most conference itineraries, sustainability too is a top priority. At the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME), he announced that Te Pae has achieved net carbon zero accreditation for the centre’s scope one and two emissions much earlier than expected.

“It’s amazing,” he says, “We’ve only been open just over 18 months, so we’re very proud of that. The other thing is that it gives us the opportunity to work with our clients to make events carbon zero or net carbon zero. So that’s the next step for us,” he says, adding that sustainable events aren’t just something that planners are asking for – it’s important to delegates too.

Steele says the region is set to grow further with new hotel investment in the city set to be announced over the coming six months to a year.

“Particularly as a regenerated city, there’s…more and more hotels starting to come up there, but there’s a couple of big investments in hotels I think we’ll start seeing over the next six months or so, but obviously, it’ll take a couple of years to get to fruition, but there’s commencement there,” he says.

“Christchurch has really come of age,” he says adding that internationals are returning and enjoying the walkable city.

“You come from the airport, which is 15 minutes away. Once you’re at your hotel you don’t need any transport. You can walk from the venue to the hotel to the restaurants to the bars. The whole city becomes a conference destination. It’s compact, but it’s big enough to have all the things you need. And of course, it’s the gateway to everything that’s beautiful about New Zealand.”

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