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Current as of 26/05/17 05:00PM NZST
Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Tough job to attract conventions

Tourism expert warns that new centre needs to make architectural statement and be strongly marketed.

Artist impression of the new national convention centre.
Artist impression of the new national convention centre.

Tourism groups are relishing prospects of a boost to the sector from the national convention centre but one industry expert says it will be up against tough international competition.

The Government has done a controversial deal with SkyCity where it will build and fund a $402 million 3500-place international convention centre in return for a 35-year licence and more poker machines and gambling tables.

International convention visitors spend on average $318 a night in this country - compared with just over $200 for international leisure visitors - and it is hoped that they will tour the country before and after conventions.

However, Simon Milne, a professor of tourism at AUT and the head of the NZ Tourism Research Institute, said the country would have to push hard in a crowded market and have to make an architectural statement to win convention business.

"It's a very competitive international marketplace and the high-end conference market has not expanded much since the global financial crisis.

It's a challenging environment to get into and the fact that it's got the 'national' label makes it more important that it makes some sort of statement rather than just putting up a concrete box."

He said he had not been encouraged by concept drawings of SkyCity's plans for the Auckland site.

Other Pacific Rim cities were investing heavily in spectacular buildings, notably Vancouver whose centre with a waterfront location and green building features had made it an international drawcard. The New Zealand centre was also up against established centres and promotion across the Tasman.

Milne said that given New Zealand's comparative isolation, it would have to market itself heavily and this would be costly. "Once you create the beast you need to feed it."

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Martin Snedden said the centre would benefit the tourism industry and the wider economy.

It would allow New Zealand to target a lucrative market for large, international conferences which the country did not have the ability to host at present. "This is a completely untapped market segment for New Zealand and will help us boost shoulder and low-season travel."

The centre would support many more jobs across the economy, including in the accommodation, catering, transport and retail sectors.

"Many conference delegates will travel around New Zealand before or after their events, while others will choose to return with their families for private holidays," Snedden said.

The association has long been pushing for an international convention centre, supported by a network of regional convention centres. The new convention centres planned for Christchurch and Queenstown will support the growth of New Zealand's business tourism market.

Tourism New Zealand's Kevin Bowler says the convention centre will support the agency's work to attract high-value business visitors and large international conferences, work that recently received endorsement from the Government with an additional $34 million in funding over the next four years.

"These funds will be used to really enhance our promotion of New Zealand as an attractive and unique destination for international meetings, incentives, conventions and events."

Milne said conference visitors were high spenders because they generally came from wealthy countries and most were on corporate expense accounts.

Visitor spending

$318 a day conference visitors
$208 a day leisure travellers

- NZ Herald

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