Ateed's Nick Hill tells Bill Bennett the major events planned for 2021 mean it will be a huge year for Auckland.

Preparing for 2021 will ask questions of the city such as "Why come to Auckland?", "How does Auckland stand up on the world stage?" and "Is it genuinely a global city?"

That's the readout from Nick Hill, chief executive of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), which has a big role to play in ensuring 2021 runs smoothly.

His organisation's job is to leverage the major events to attract investment, talent, visitors and students.

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"Increasingly a lot of the competition around the world is between cities rather than countries," explains Hill. "In this context New Zealand can be seen as a city state.

"When people come here it is about 'Auckland, New Zealand', not just 'Auckland'."

Hill points to the big influx of visitors and tourism. "Tourism New Zealand will promote the country, it does that with things like Lord of the Rings, lakes and so on. In that view, Auckland is seen as an airport and the infrastructure to get people out of town.

"It works on one level, but it is a missed economic opportunity for the city and illustrates the need for a more local development focus."

"There are a bunch of things Auckland needs to think about from an economic point of view that a government won't. When it comes to, say, promoting Auckland as a destination, it's a public good in the sense that there are not going to be many people to put up the funding or create an investment case to run an event. Yet there are a lot of people who would benefit from a big event."
Hill says the key to events is that they generate excitement, help unlock investment and attract visitors and capital. "That's an important part of what we do, but we do other things too that wouldn't otherwise happen, but also help to drive that investment."
The film sector is a good example of how this works.
In 2017 the local film industry attracted a billion dollars of revenue to Auckland — that's 60 per cent of New Zealand's total.
The film sector is lumpy, global and competitive. Ateed's role in that is twofold. First to persuade producers to make movies in Auckland and New Zealand. Second, to directly invest in and underwrite the development of Kiwi film studios.
"Without that you're not going to attract the big productions from the likes of Warner Brothers and others," says Hill.
"When we weigh it up, we don't think the private sector is going to jump in there. It's too risky for them but having that facility and that infrastructure becomes really important. The most visible and successful example last year was The Meg which was filmed in and around the Hauraki Gulf. For a couple of weeks, it was the highest-grossing movie in the world".
Another area where Ateed has played a key role is the hotel sector. Auckland has long faced the challenge of not having enough hotel rooms at the top end of the market. Hill says his organisation worked on Project Palace — a programme New Zealand Trade and Enterprise led to encourage hotel investment in Auckland. To date it has added 4000 hotel beds.
"This is where we've come in and actively marketed to the world. We've told them that Auckland is open for business. There are the events of 2021 and it's the fastest-growing city in Australasia. There are more cranes in Auckland than in any city in the United States."
In more general terms, Hill says Ateed has taken a look at productivity. New Zealand has a problem, but Auckland's position is worse. He says the city has been slipping relative to the rest of the country.
Auckland needs to attract investment in both existing business and industries where there are higher levels of productivity. Hill says this translates into wider prosperity. To make that happen, the city needs to attract more high quality jobs.
"It's about people being on a career or vocational path that allows them to continue to acquire skills, improve their value as workers and to achieve more return as a result.
"The question is which industries can we attract to Auckland that can provide those opportunities.
"The film industry is great because it has those jobs but so do the other creative industries such as design and new technology industries such as augmented reality."