Shrinking market hits Opera House

By Lawrence Gullery

The conference market, once one of the big customers for the Hawke's Bay Opera House in Hastings, is in decline as businesses decide to cut their overheads in the tough economic climate.

The opera house board chairman, John Buck, said the venue was still "getting our share" of what he described as a diminished market but said he believed conferences were no longer a big ticket customer.

"The simple answer is the conference market is in decline, probably because it's an area of overheads businesses don't have to incur and in recent times, organisations are deciding not to have conferences.

"The decline in patronage in motels in Hawke's Bay seems to be a reflection of that and a general factor of the lack of consumer confidence. But we are getting our share of conferences and chasing what we can."

Mr Buck was questioned on the return value of conferences, for the opera house, when he presented its annual plan to owner, Hastings District Council yesterday.

"We've got some bookings for conferences taking place next year, they are booked ahead," Mr Buck said.

"We've had other cases where they've booked but then pulled out at the 11th hour." The opera house reported it had increased its total income by 33 per cent ($259,200) in the past year; with expenses reduced by 3.5 per cent ($45,700) on last year.

It had required $476,349 of council funding for the last financial year which was $160,000 less than budgeted and $204,000 less than the previous year.

Councillor Wayne Bradshaw wanted to know if the positive bottom line was the result of Rugby World Cup events the opera house hosted last year.

Mr Buck said the good financial result was "influenced" by the World Cup but the same level of return could be achieved from hosting an average weekend show.

"It was hard to make money out of the event because we were so constrained about what we could sell and the use of terminology.

"Yes, we had a full theatre but it was only in the areas where the big games were held, quarter-finals and onwards, where you might have seen a bigger impact."

Mr Buck said it was important to note it was the big shows making all the money, such as the production called Soap, which the opera house hosted last year.

"We had the show here early last spring and that alone provided more than 25 per cent of our bottom line. We are hoping that particularly through Bruce Mactaggart [new board member], we will have the ability to get more of those shows."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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