Recently Hawke's Bay played host to a group of fruit tree growers.
The participants, some 300-strong, were from all around the world but predominately from the United States. The tour was organised out of New York.
I was privileged to be asked to welcome a large portion of the group at a dinner and celebration where they had booked out a whole Restaurant/Bar.
What a fantastic bunch of people they were - all very successful in their own right. They were picked up from their hotels and motels, carried to dinner in coaches supplied by a local coach provider and at the end of the night carried back.
Napier's hotels and many motels were fully booked.
During the night I got chatting to the lady who organised the tour and I asked "Why Napier?"
She had great delight in telling me the whole story, as New Yorkers love to do.
Every year she organises somewhere in the world for the fruit tree growers to visit. Her research told her that Hawke's Bay was a very appropriate place to visit, being one of the principal apple and other fruit growing areas in the world.
She then had to look at travel logistics because with such a large group, she had to organise both scheduled and charter flights.
Having found that Hawke's Bay's Airport was in Napier, she investigated conference facilities that could not only host her group but provide group breakfasts and other catering requirements.
Google led her to the Napier Conference Centre.
Having entertained a couple of the conference delegates in our home, I can assure you they were all absolutely rapt in the facilities provided at the Conference Centre.
The delegates we entertained and most of their fellow delegates were in Napier hotel accommodation for five nights.
During that time they traveled by coach out to the wineries, to orchards, to Cape Kidnappers and to other Hawke's Bay attractions. They spent money in the cafes, shops and with the taxi companies.
These people really pumped money into the Hawke's Bay economy.
Having top class and marketable conference facilities in Hawke's Bay results in very significant economic benefits for the whole region.
The Napier Conference Centre not only provides the premiere conference facilities in Hawke's Bay, it is also a much-loved community facility. Approximately 80 per cent of the bookings are commercial which allows the facility to subsidise community bookings substantially, making them considerably more affordable than they otherwise would be.
What would happen if for any reason, commercial conferences stopped coming to Napier? If our Conference Centre wasn't easily recognised to conference organisers as a conference facility, would bookings reduce? How would that impact ratepayers? And what would happen to the ability of the facility to provide subsidised bookings to its community?
Marketability and commerciality are essential ingredients of the Napier Conference Centre story for both Napier ratepayers and the wider community.
The Hawke's Bay region's economy is on a roll. We all know the drivers - apples, wines and tourism feature high on the list. A great deal of tourism is built around events but a significant contributor to tourist numbers is conferences. Conferences bring people to Hawke's Bay, often for days at a time. They support our accommodation providers, our transport operators, our hospitality industry, the whole tourism industry and the economy of the whole region. And if they have a really good time here, delegates come back with their families and do it all over again.
Importantly, conferences support our conference centre which is owned and funded by the ratepayers of Napier. The better the commercial support of the Conference Centre, the less the ratepayers have to fund and the more opportunities the community has to benefit from this well-regarded facility.
In the 1990s the then Napier City Council recognised the opportunities a conference facility could provide and on the September 30, 1995 the new conference centre was opened. In 2000 it was rebranded "Napier War Memorial Conference Centre", a title it carried until 2016. In 2015 it was recognised that the facility needed seismic and functionality upgrading and the ratepayers of Napier committed substantial funding so we could have a fantastic international standard facility.
I'm really proud of our Conference Centre and the contribution it makes to the Hawke's Bay economy.