A fresh look for facilities at the Ellerslie Event Centre is all part of keeping up with demands and expectations of corporate clients.

Over two years, rooms are being re-painted, re-carpeted, re-curtained and LED lighting is being installed for sustainability.

The centre, in the park-like surroundings of the historic racecourse, is a popular address for meetings, conferences and conventions. It includes the Ellerslie and Ascot stands.

The reason for the two-year timeframe is so rooms can be taken out of use without affecting bookings too dramatically, says Craig Fenwick, the centre's executive general manager of hospitality and events.


"I think we are close to being one of the biggest centres in New Zealand.

"We have over 800 functions a year, and that does not include raceday functions. We would have about 150,000 a year at these events.

"Talking size-wise, we have 26 rooms so we can take anything from a boardroom for four to eight people right through to where we have had dance events for 6000 people. That was the whole stand, so it had different DJs in every room.

"Two of our largest rooms are capable of holding 850 for dinner.

"We have had Christmas parties in our stables before, which is quite different. We did a Telecom Christmas party many years ago and that was huge. They took over the whole of the Ascot Stand, the racing club members' stand. They had different entertainment in different rooms."

He says the jewel in the centre's crown is the Cuvée Bar. "We have an indoor-outdoor flow. It is basically a room but it has a retractable roof and that can seat 500, or 800 for a cocktail party.

"You can drive cars in there, boats in there, it is right by the winning post and it's a nice environment. We do a lot of car launches in there."

He puts the Ellerslie Event Centre's popularity down not only to the facilities offered but also its location.

"We are 15 minutes from the CBD and adjacent to the Southern Motorway, probably half an hour to the airport, so our location is very good. And we offer state of the art technology through our AV provider which is Edwards Sounds Systems."

The centre has four account managers and an in-house catering team. "So we offer fresh creative and innovative cuisine and accommodate any budget," says Fenwick.

"Our free parking is a big strength. We have our expansive grounds and gardens which enable team-building activities in a nice atmosphere both for creating and to get out of the city environment."

The event centre offers 20 different types of events. Some of these are aimed at the school ball and wedding markets, but business and delegate packages are designed specifically for meetings, conventions and conferences.

Fenwick says his customers want data projectors, conference calling, internet and wifi. "People always want to offer that to their clients now and to their guests at their conference and things so they can check emails and so on.

"We even had a virtual presenter who was beamed in from another country. That was pretty wild."

He estimates domestic business would be 90% and international at 10%.
"We also have the hotel on site, the Novotel and Ibis. They have 250 rooms and that is a major benefit for us."

Asked why people still want to gather for conferences, meetings and conferences, Fenwick says even though technology has made it easier for businesspeople to communicate with staff or clients, you still can't beat gathering people together in one location.

"It is common sense to share your goals and aspirations for your company with your staff," he says.

"Yes, you have Skype and conference calls but you can't beat the overall experience of the live presentation. You can see the clarity of the presentation, you can encapsulate the food and beverage offerings to enhance that experience and probably the most important thing is the networking opportunity.

"You don't get to do that when you Skype and things like that; I don't think it will ever take over the conferencing and convention market.

"People need to meet, they need to network, they need to build the entire experience, not just the presentation but the food that was presented and how nice the room was."
What does he see as trends for the industry?

"I think the ever-changing technology will change business, obviously better presentations, and a big one we have seen which continues to grow is the food and dietary trends, which will dictate the catering options and styles. The gluten-frees, the nut allergies, all those seem to becoming more and more prevalent in the requirements.

"I think the expectations of our clients will continue to grow, for us to be more innovative and offer professional and exceptional service.

"We get customer feedback, we keep up with trends and we are redoing our rooms to keep them fresh and modern because that is what clients want."

He says some organisations book ahead but the trend is that lead time is much shorter.
"It doesn't affect us too much. The availability of rooms sometimes is not there. We unfortunately turn away a lot of business which is awful to do but you only have so many rooms, especially with bigger ones.

"There is not a lot of choice in Auckland for the bigger events. So if they can't change their dates, we have to turn them away."