Sue Sullivan is chief executive of Conventions & Incentives.
A clear timeline released last week for Christchurch's new Convention Centre Precinct is a shot in the arm not just for the rebuild of New Zealand's second largest city, but for New Zealand's rapidly developing offering to the enormous global conference and convention market.
The timeline, released alongside early design plans for a 1400-delegate facility in central Christchurch, has the centre being completed by late 2019.
Christchurch's new Convention Centre is just one component of a new network of convention centres that will emerge in New Zealand. With its 1400-delegate capacity, the Christchurch Convention Centre will complement the larger 3500-delegate New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland, and other proposed smaller facilities in Queenstown and Wellington, and will provide choice and linkages for visiting delegations.
Internationally the business events industry has firmly placed itself at the centre of high-value tourism, as one of the key drivers of the sector's development. It is recognised as an important generator of income, employment, investment and knowledge-sharing.
Having purpose-designed facilities in the North and South Islands, with excellent access via our two international airports, will help lift New Zealand's profile as a great place to do business. It will bring people with new and world-class ideas to meet here, attract potential investors and export partners, and bring high-spending visitors.
With a modern convention centre network, alongside unparalleled leisure opportunities, New Zealand will have a unique, world-class offering to present to the global conference market. Delegates can step off the plane and arrive to state-of-the-art facilities, world-class cuisine and a wide range of activities and accommodation options.
According to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) data half a million delegates attended 5600 conferences in New Zealand in the year ended March 2016 -- a growth of about 20,000 delegates on the previous year. The room for growth with new larger facilities is clearly huge.
International convention delegates spend an estimated $350 per night, almost twice as much as other international visitors to New Zealand. International delegates often bring partners and families, making the most of their opportunity to visit New Zealand and spending on extra days of accommodation, hospitality and entertainment before or after the event.
Conference business comes in our shoulder and low seasons, spreading the economic benefits of tourism, keeping hotel occupancy up throughout the year, and making a compelling business case for hotel and other tourism infrastructure investment.
Latest figures show conventions and conferences generated around 846,000 visitor nights in 2015, of which 44 per cent were from overseas delegates. They spent an average of 5.8 nights in New Zealand.
Multi-day conventions were worth $472 million to New Zealand last year, and the average per-night delegate spend was up 15 per cent from 2014 driven by the increase in per-person spend, and a 9 per cent increase in delegates, MBIE data shows.
These international delegates have a wider economic impact for New Zealand because they foster ongoing relationships, knowledge transfer and commercial transactions.
The broader benefits of a growing business events economy are equally important. New Zealand's business events sector provides key support for infrastructure development, business relationships, knowledge transfer and industry investment, with the benefits spreading across city and regional economies.
We also have the chance to springboard off an overall tourism market that is experiencing very strong growth, and potential for continued ongoing growth.
While technological change does impact on travel and meeting patterns, the desire to meet face to face and to have first-hand experiences remains -- especially for those who share passions or professions in different countries. For a country the size of New Zealand, there remains plenty of room for growth in the future.
Business events are relationship-based, with their focus on networking and sharing ideas. New Zealanders bring to this our special manaakitanga experience, which visitors love.
It is reflected in our style of hospitality, the way we greet people, how we welcome them, how we engage them and share ideas.
We are competing against big destinations with big budgets, but our point of difference is that New Zealand story, and the friendly way we have with people.
To ensure convention centres do meet changing needs, the new facilities are being designed in smart, future-proof ways to allow for new technologies and different ways of interacting.
The New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland has been designed collaboratively alongside event industry experts.
This innovative approach is helping to determine everything from the variety of food and beverage on offer, to daylight-mimicking lighting. It will be a transparent building with no back doors.
Christchurch is leveraging its prime South Island location in New Zealand's newest city, delivering a boutique premium centre designed with the help of world-leading conference experts.
Already gaining worldwide recognition, Christchurch was recently named by US Successful Meetings magazine as "safe, stylish and legendary for scenery" in their Top 10 Destinations issue.
Queenstown, with space for up to 750 delegates, will complement the two larger centres with its unique position as New Zealand's adventure capital, while Wellington is planning a prime waterfront convention centre and movie museum supported by Sir Peter Jackson, capable of hosting up to 1000 delegates.
To match New Zealand's investment in physical infrastructure, our industry recognises it must also nurture our human infrastructure to grow the business events sector. Conferences and business events are all about people.
Conventions and Incentives New Zealand's education initiatives include professional development through master classes for conference organisers, mentoring programmes, a national emerging talent programme for young industry members, and a new training diploma for those wanting to achieve high-level national qualifications. We are ready to boost New Zealand's reputation on the world stage.