Carmen is a social issues and rural reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Tauranga in need of major hotel

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The number of conferences held at Trinity Wharf Tauranga has dropped. PHOTO/SUSAN BLICK
The number of conferences held at Trinity Wharf Tauranga has dropped. PHOTO/SUSAN BLICK

Calls for an international hotel have gathered momentum, with global hotel operators expressing interest in the city and business leaders saying it could put Tauranga on the map as a conference destination.

But not everyone agrees, with an exisiting Tauranga hotelier suggesting the city needs to focus on what it already has instead of what ifs.

Figures from Bay Venues show the number of conferences and meetings held at ASB Stadium jumped 45 per cent last year compared to 2014.

Commercial manager Ervin McSweeny expected that number to increase and to date the stadium had 82 booked, including 19 exhibitions.

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Big-ticket events on the bill were the NZ Road Transport Forum NZ Conference combined with the NZ Truck Driving Championship (October), the NZ Cake Decorators Guild National Conference (November) and the First International Kiwifruit Health Symposium, which finished on Thursday.

Mr McSweeney said conferences were quantifiable in delegate spend but the biggest issues were "capacity of suitable delegate accommodation then location and capacity on flights to Tauranga".

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the market was increasing and the city needed a hotel that could cater for 300 to 600 people with conference facilities.

The council was in discussions with a group of individuals about developing a hotel site on its land in Durham St opposite Baycourt and he was confident an agreement could be signed within 12 months.

Finding an international operator like the Hilton was not the problem, he said, because the council had received expressions of interest from at least four chains. "The hurdle is a simple one, finding someone to build it."

To grow this market we do need a large-capacity hotel where all delegates from larger conferences can be accommodated together.
Kristin Dunne, Tourism Bay of Plenty head of communications and marketing

No commitment had been made but the council would expect market value if it sold the Durham St land, he said.

Meanwhile, in May 2015 council issued a consent for a 150-room international hotel to Spring Street Holdings Ltd - a company registered in October 2014 and whose sole director and shareholder was Jonathon Brett McColl - which planned to build on the corner of Spring St and Durham St.

The proposal said it would have conference facilities for 600 people but Mr Crosby said "they got a consent, put out some marketing and I know it hasn't progressed to date".

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Last month the Bay of Plenty Times also reported Wellington-based Primeproperty Group bought Tauranga's 81-room Hotel Armitage on the corner of Willow St and Park St with intentions to upgrade and enlarge it.

Tourism Bay of Plenty head of communications and marketing, Kristin Dunne, said that in 2015 to the end of December, 2.2 million delegates attended 37,000 conferences nationally and "we currently have 4 per cent share of this".

Those figures were submitted by Tauranga City Council and Western Bay of Plenty District Council to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment for the Convention Activity Survey which also showed Rotorua had 4 per cent of the market, with Taupo at 2 per cent.

"To grow this market we do need a large-capacity hotel where all delegates from larger conferences can be accommodated together and a more collaborative approach from the industry to package together local experiences and work together, despite perhaps competing in other markets."

A new, internationally branded hotel would mean Tauranga could attract larger business events and the hotel would be a valuable asset for the city moving forward, she said.

Priority One projects manager Annie Hill said Tauranga was missing out on a high-expenditure visitor market by not having these facilities in the city.

"This is the key to being nationally and internationally competitive in the conference market, meaning everything can be held under one roof.

"While we do host some larger conferences, delegates need to be spilt over several accommodation providers and have to travel around the city to get to the conference venue, which is not always ideal for conference organisers." The conference market was an untapped area for the city and sub-region, she said.


Fewer conferences held


The number of conferences at Trinity Wharf Tauranga has fallen despite other segments of the business performing well.

Sales and marketing manager Michelle Morland said perhaps "the focus needs to be more on how we can support all the operators in the region to collectively pitch for event business rather than focusing on what we don't have."

Any experienced operator would tell you that the bulk of events held throughout New Zealand comprise on average less than 200 delegates, she said.

"If there are large conventions that we have missed out on as a region as a result of not having another hotel, then we'd love to see the list."

Earlier this week Trinity Wharf Tauranga attended the Convene Trade show in Auckland where more than 282 buyers of conference and event space were registered, she said.

It only received one inquiry that was for an event greater than 200 people, she said.

A number of Auckland businesses were also electing to accommodate their staff in an Auckland hotel for their conferences, rather than spend the money travelling outside their region to an event destination, she said.

However, Air New Zealand's increase in flight schedules "will be positive as the conference sector have often stated group travel to the region is challenging and expensive".

An Air New Zealand spokesperson said from October 30 the airline would introduce 45,000 more seats per annum on a less complex and more consistent daily schedule for its customers.

"Tauranga is a key destination for Air New Zealand and one of the fastest growing regional ports on our network."

The changes would include more services between Auckland and Tauranga and Christchurch and Tauranga.

Data showed it operated 375,000 seats into and out of Tauranga last year, 5 per cent more than 2014.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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