Town centre managers have worked hard to make the most of what was an impressive line-up of international events organised by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed)
Now that Ateed has officially merged with Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) to become Auckland Unlimited, we wait to see how this new entity will work with town centres to capitalise on future events in our biggest city.
• Auckland Unlimited: The preferred name for Auckland Council's new cultural, events and economic agency
• Auckland Council's new cultural and economic agency named Auckland Unlimited
• Nick Hill: Auckland Unlimited - a new economic and cultural agency
• Nick Hill, the $506,000 man resurrecting Auckland in the post-Covid world
There is no doubt Ateed played a critical role in attracting visitors and tourists to Auckland. At first glance, the digital assets on Ateed's old aucklandnz.co.nz site seemed to do the job - focusing on adventures, walking tracks, islands and our beaches with the central city revolving around sky jumps, museums, cycleways and day outings.
It's certainly a big call to cover everything from Matakana to Pukekohe. Unfortunately, the business precincts in the immediate city fringe areas are often left "high and dry", to the point where we ask ourselves how to make the visitor connection, without offering ticketed events or paid tourist attractions?
The truth is, the ability to capitalise on major Auckland events has always been precarious for business precincts, often determined by proximity to the event, rather than inclusion planning. As Auckland Unlimited finds its feet, we will still be absolutely reliant on its muscle to market Auckland nationally (as well as beyond our shores) because our budgets do not stretch beyond our immediate catchment areas.
As a case in point, the 36th America's Cup. Before the merger, Ateed said it would work alongside the event organisers of the America's Cup, to give as many Aucklanders as possible the chance to engage with this exciting event and show the best of the region to visitors. The allied summer programme dubbed Summernova provides a welcome opportunity to get listed on this platform, but only if you're hosting an event during the designated period.
Pre-Covid, we imagined we'd be able to acquire a slice of the visitation pie and explored a platform (with Ateed) we could link into. For those fortuitous beachside localities near the racecourses, the almost certain benefits were under huge strain only a few weeks ago during the dispute of the course locations. That aside, we (possibly naively) assumed so many visitors in Auckland over long periods would guarantee us some visitation outside of the races.
The stark reality is not yet - and no one knows if it will eventuate. Post-Covid, many retail strips are struggling and the benefits - especially with the lack of syndicates, superyachts and international visitors - are ever more intangible.
Unlike other international events hosted in Auckland (e.g. World Masters Games 2017), the ability to present your district directly to the event visitors has no obvious facilitated link. Yet, we are still being encouraged to "dress" our businesses in anticipation.
Add to the mix the onerous sponsor preclusions in and around the race village, even ticketed tourism operators are battling to access precious visitors.
No doubt this merger makes practical business sense. It's projected to save ratepayers an estimated $67 million over 10 years by cutting duplication and the benefit of combined resources, but at what (other) cost?
According to chief executive Nick Hill, "Auckland Unlimited reflects our ongoing role in making Auckland a vibrant city and supporting the development of our economy, building on the positive impact that RFA and Ateed have made to the lives of Aucklanders over the last 10 years."
On the whole, Ateed did some very good work for Auckland, but as a precinct located a mere 2.7km from the Auckland CBD, a critical issue for us is how to access visitors coming here.
On the economic development front, despite efforts from both parties, dialogue seems to fall off a cliff and we feel disconnected from any tangible outcomes. I suspect we aren't the only business association who feels this way.
We would like this new entity to do a better job of leveraging its valuable digital assets to offer more for precincts that sit outside the CBD. In our view, these assets are not currently living up to their full potential.
Here's hoping Auckland Unlimited's structure can provide better inroads and efficiency for us and our counterparts, by not only resurrecting Auckland's struggling sporting, tourism, cultural and economic sectors but making that important visitor connection - especially in this post-Covid world.
Now that Auckland Unlimited is operational, it will be interesting to see how much of the future will focus on events and business development. Will business associations like us be getting more of a helping hand? Or will the status quo remain, where making that visitor connection remains out of reach for many?
• Cheryl Adamson is general manager of the Parnell Business Association.