New Zealand: The Standard-Bearer

Mokohinau Lighthouse, New Zealand

Safe, sustainable, spectacular

A gloriously uncrowded country at peace, New Zealand is one of the safest nations in the world. A progressive government and a culturally diverse, universally educated population make this country attractive to organizations and business groups from around the globe. Environmental sustainability is a prime force in New Zealand, where almost one-third of the country is under the protection of the Department of Conservation, and more than 70 percent of the electricity is generated from renewable resources. The once-isolated Burgess Island is home to Mokohinau Lighthouse, which is now powered by solar panels and accessible to the public. “We cater in particular to science, agriculture, marine and high-value food and health industries,” says Sue Sullivan, chief executive of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ). Upcoming international conferences booked in the country are focused on health research, biodiversity, education and agriculture. Popular for incentives and conference breaks is recreation-oriented team building in the vast parks and wilderness reserves on the North and South islands. Hikers, bikers and sightseers fan out across the spectacular trails, rivers and scenic roadways. As they explore and meet locals, especially the indigenous Maori people, they become entranced with the country’s legendary spirit of manaakitanga, a uniquely Kiwi way of making people feel welcome. Known for their carving, weaving, tattooing and exciting performances combining waita (song) and kapa haka (dance), the Maori create unforgettable interactive cultural experiences that are a must for group entertainment. The friendly vibe, dazzling mountain and coastal scenery, and tranquil social environment have prompted readers of Wanderlust magazine to choose New Zealand as the Top Country in the World. An archipelago of exquisite islands so remote that no European set foot on them until the 18th century, New Zealand is now easily accessible by new nonstop flights to Auckland from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. Auckland receives more than 70 percent of all airport arrivals in the country and is one of two major tourism and conference destinations on the North Island, along with the capital city, Wellington; short flights connect to Christchurch on the South Island.

Auckland

ANZViaductEventsCentreKawau1BalconyANZ Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland

Besides world-class fishing and hiking, New Zealand is famous for lifestyle products such as wine, golf, movie-making and yachting, all of particular interest to incentive planners. “The highlight of our trip was the America’s Cup Sailing Regatta in Auckland,” says Desiree Abracosa, project manager of Maritz Travel. “We had about 64 people on yachts that were used in the America’s Cup races––a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! After the exciting sail, we had a ‘wine shop’ set up where our attendees tasted New Zealand wines, and then we dined at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, right on the waterfront at the foot of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.” Abracosa was coordinating an incentive trip for an American insurance company. On the harborfront, the recently renovated ANZ Viaduct Events Centre offers 64,583 sq. ft. of meeting space, including banquet seating for 1,200 and fabulous water views. Down the street on Queens Wharf, Shed 10 is a tourist attraction and a spacious venue that can accommodate 3,000 for product launches, expos, concerts and parties. The first floor offers 23,724 sq. ft. and the second floor has 23,853 sq. ft. Skyline and harbor views are eye-popping from 1,076 feet up in the tower’s revolving restaurant and observation deck. The tower anchors Skycity, Auckland’s complex of casinos, bars, restaurants, 53,820 sq. ft. of meeting and theater space, and two hotels, including the 316-room, five-star Skycity Grand Hotel. Another five-star property, Hotel Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, has 171 guest rooms with balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, and five function rooms. A rooftop terrace completes Rydges Auckland Hotel, a 267-room property with event spaces that can accommodate 400. Expecting to be completed in 2017 are the 190-room Park Hyatt Auckland and the $402 million New Zealand International Conference Centre, with capacity for more than 3,000 in 92,570 sq. ft. of event space and two dozen meeting rooms. Longtime meeting planners’ favorite hotels are Langham Hotel Auckland, with 411 rooms, 13 function rooms and two ballrooms; and the 165-room Hilton Auckland Hotel at the end of Princes Wharf. These hotels, in addition to many others throughout the Central Business District (CBD) and the Heritage Hotel boutique properties around the country, are committed to sustainability practices, including recycling, energy- and water-saving measures, LED lighting, sourcing seasonal food, and strong support of local charities and schools. Adjacent to the CBD greensward of Aotea Square, where public festivals are held, Aotea Centre hosts as many as 2,000 people in art-filled theaters, foyers, bars and function rooms. Linked to Aotea via underground walkway, Rendezvous Grand Hotel Auckland is a 452-room property, renovated in 2012, with event capacity for more than 1,000. Nearby and extravagantly decorated in Rococo style, Auckland Civic Theatre seats 2,378, while the circa-1911 Auckland Town Hall offers a 1,529-seat Great Hall.

Wellington

te-papa-exterior-dayMuseum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

Drive up to Mount Victoria lookout or ride the Wellington cable car to see New Zealand’s capital city, surrounded by green hills, a sheltered harbor and two bays, where ferries, cruise ships and pleasure boats sail. Clustered on and near the waterfront are restaurants, shopping and hotels, along with the main conference and entertainment venues, making this an easily walkable and eminently sustainable city center. A cultural vortex, Wellington is home to Royal New Zealand Ballet, a symphony orchestra, opera house, a major jazz festival, and dozens of galleries and public art installations. The area is renowned for movie-making, notably the filming and production location for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit series. Wellington Rover Tours takes groups on daytrips to “Middle Earth” locations, as does Flat Earth New Zealand, a company that also specializes in golf, winery and city tours. On the drawing board for downtown is a new $90 million movie and convention center (backed by Lord of the Rings director/producer Peter Jackson) across the street from the dramatic grey- and yellow-stone harborfront Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Known for its bicultural mission, Te Papa recently hosted a conference for the Federation of International Human Rights Museums, that coincided with the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, a milestone that recognized Maori ownership of their lands and gave them the rights of British subjects. The museum is comprised of six floors of art- and culture-oriented exhibitions, along with event space the size of three rugby fields. Framing dazzling city views, the soaring main foyer is often used for receptions and banquets for more than 500. Museum Art Hotel is an architectural landmark filled with eclectic art in 160 rooms and in private dining and meeting spaces for up to 200 guests. Down the street on Queen’s Wharf, linked to the TSB Bank Arena by a two-story arcade, Shed 6 is popular for large receptions, product launches and trade shows. Nearby, Michael Fowler Centre (MFC) hosts up to 2,209 and has classroom space for 1,035. MFC’s foyers and harborview lounge were used by Webstock for their design conference workshops, while the rococo, century-old St. James Theatre served as their main meeting hall, accommodating 1,550. House of Travel’s annual national sales conference took place at TSB Bank Arena and Auditorium, with breakouts and cocktail parties at Shed 6. “The central location and the fact that TSB is within walking distance of quality accommodations means that it worked well for most people,” says Annette Piercy, the company’s customer experience manager. “There was a lot going on in Wellington that weekend that generated a brilliant buzz with our delegates.” More than 3,000 hotel rooms are within walking distance of the CBD, notably 280 at Rydges Wellington, which sports a self-contained event floor with five light-filled conference rooms accommodating 250; and 192 guest rooms at the Amora Hotel Wellington, which has a 6,458-square-foot ballroom.

Christchurch

Tram-and-the-Canterbury-MuseumTram in front of Canterbury Museum, Christchurch

New Zealand’s second largest city, Christchurch has emerged triumphant five years after a major earthquake. It boasts a dazzling new skyline and transportation center, beautifully restored historic buildings such as Isaac Theatre Royal and Canterbury Museum, and the century-old, now rebuilt Heritage Hotel. New eateries and shops line the 1930s-style New Regent Street and The Tannery riverside complex. Among more than 5,000 new and renovated hotel rooms are the ultra-contemporary BreakFree on Cashel, Ramada Suites and the five-star Hotel Montreal. Next year, a new 200-room Crowne Plaza hotel will open in the city center and a convention center is expected to open in 2018. (Learn more about Christchurch in our Top 10 International Meeting Destinations feature, found in our March 2016 issue.)

Hobbits Are Afoot!

Hobbiton Shot on location around New Zealand, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit blockbusters have created a “Tolkien tourism” phenomenon in Wellington and the Hamilton and Waikato areas. As passengers at the Wellington International Airport (WLG) come and go, dramatic representations of Gollum, Gandalf and the Great Eagles––and in his rocky grotto, Smaug the Magnificent dragon––set the scene for “Middle of Middle-earth,” which is what the city has branded itself. Meeting breaks and incentive getaways are fun, starting in Wellington with visits to Lord of the Rings filming sites and guided tours of Weta Workshop and Weta Cave, a museum of memorabilia and props from the Rings, King Kong, Avatar and Tintin movies. A short drive from Auckland, the Hamilton and Waikato region looks just like Middle Earth, the magical setting of the Hobbit trilogy. Amid the lush greenery of the countryside, the “shire” of the enchanting Hobbiton Movie Set (pictured) is comprised of the Green Dragon Inn; dozens of hobbit holes; and the double-arched bridge, the mill and the Party Tree, which come alive with narration and the soft sounds of flutes and fiddles. Reception rooms decorated with murals, a party marquee seating up to 220 and the inn are available for group functions. KiwiRail Scenic Journeys charters private carriages or an entire train for trips and overnights from Auckland to Hobbiton Movie Set and Hamilton. In Hamilton, Claudelands Conference and Exhibition Centre hosts groups of 50 to 900 for receptions, cabarets, banquets, classes and trade shows; the 6,000-capacity arena is popular for everything from concerts to ice shows, sports and exhibitions.