Yes, New Zealand is all of that, and more. The country best known to Americans as the splendid setting for the recent movie series The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is a superb meeting destination. Its people are known for their warmth. Its weather is relatively mild (summer and fall stretch from December through April, with mostly sunny skies and 75-to-85-degree temperatures). Its range of outdoor activities is unparalleled. And its diverse landscapes—from beaches and snow-covered mountains to fiords and volcanoes—are dazzling. For most, the country is “still a relatively fresh and new destination,” says Alexa Bennett, North America business events executive for Tourism New Zealand. She says the appeal to groups is “its beauty; it’s an English-speaking country; it’s so easy to plan and execute a conference or incentive. It’s easy to get around, and easy to see because it’s a small country.”
With a strong economy, New Zealand’s meetings infrastructure is quickly becoming top-drawer, especially for the Pacific Rim region. Air New Zealand is the only carrier offering trans-Pacific flights from Auckland to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver. (Other international airlines are reported to be eyeing the routes as well.) The airline recently increased the number of flights to Los Angeles during peak times of the year to three daily, and has been considering adding a third destination in the mainland United States. Major cities are building new convention centers, and new hotels adjacent to the convention centers are in the works. Restaurants offer tempting local fare, including wines that are internationally ranked.
The country has a rich cultural history and a diverse mix of people that reflect that history, as well as its geographical position in the Pacific Rim. The Maori (the indigenous Polynesian people) were the first to settle New Zealand, about 1,000 years ago. A Dutchman was the first European in the country, but the British made it part of their empire.
Today, about 67 percent of the population is of European descent, 15 percent is Maori, 12 percent is Asian, 7 percent is Pacific Islander and 1 percent is of Middle Eastern/Latin American/African descent.
Kiwis, as New Zealand’s people call themselves, are ready to say “Kia Ora” (a Maori welcome greeting) to you and your group.
Almost 3 million people visited New Zealand last year, the highest-ever annual total. About 58,000 of those came for conferences and conventions. Pacific Rim countries dominate visitor arrivals, says Bjoern Spreitzer, international business events manager for Tourism New Zealand. Almost half of all visitors are from Australia (1.3 million last year) followed by China (260,000).
“Conferences tend to align strongly with academic ties to New Zealand universities and agriculture [a big economic driver],” Bennett says, noting that topics in health sciences and marine technology are popular.
New Zealand’s major cities—Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, its capital—have been busy making themselves even more attractive to groups.
Westhaven Marina, at the foot of the Auckland Harbour Bridge
Auckland has a population of almost 1.5 million—about one in three Kiwis call it home. It’s the world’s largest Polynesian city; around 56 percent of Aucklanders are of European descent, 11 percent are Maori, 13 percent are of Pacific Island descent and 12 percent are Asian.
The bustling city with two huge harbors has much to offer groups, especially when the New Zealand International Convention Centre (NZICC) opens in 2018. With 365,973 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and exhibit space, it will be the largest center in the country, capable of hosting 3,500. According to officials, NZICC will be a big player in the Pacific Rim, allowing New Zealand to compete with Australia and parts of Southeast Asia for international conferences. The Ministry of Economic Development has said that NZICC should attract an additional 33,000 overseas visitors who will bring in $66 million.
New Zealand International Convention Centre, Auckland
The new convention center will boast a dramatic entrance and commanding views of Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Waitakere Ranges. Adjacent will be a five-star, 300-guest-room SkyCity hotel.
Existing hotels with meeting facilities include Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour (172 guest rooms; two boardrooms; executive retreat meeting space); Pullman Auckland (340 guest rooms; meeting space for up to 900); The Langham Auckland (411 guest rooms; 13 meeting spaces); and Crowne Plaza Auckland (352 guest rooms; 10 meeting spaces host up to 460).
Auckland also offers many cultural and recreational diversions such as Auckland Museum, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland Zoo, Cornwall Park and Bethells Beach. Attendees can also explore scenic islands, go winetasting (sauvignon blanc and chardonnay) and sample the fresh cuisine.
New Zealand’s capital, located at the southwestern tip of North Island between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range, has a population of 394,000. Wellington is considered the country’s arts and culture hub, and is said to have more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York City. Its coffee and craft beer producers are internationally recognized.
Unique event venues include Opera House, Shed 6 on the waterfront, Wellington Zoo and the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. Meetings take place at any number of spots, including Amora Hotel Wellington (192 guest rooms; 11 meeting rooms, with the largest hosting up to 300); InterContinental Wellington (232 guest rooms; six meeting rooms for up to 400); and the luxury independent Museum Art Hotel (165 guest rooms; seven meeting rooms for up to 200), across the street from Te Papa Tongarewa.
Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington
The city is also ramping up for bigger events. Wellington Convention Centre will debut in the latter half of 2017, though its exact specifications are not confirmed. An adjacent hotel is under consideration, which would add to the 3,000 existing hotel rooms in the central business district.
Wellington is the heart of the country’s film industry, and attendees can take location tours of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, and examine props and costumes at Weta Cave Experience. Other activities include visiting Te Papa Tongarewa, with its interactive exhibits about the country’s unique geological, biological, cultural and social history; exploring Cuba Street, a bohemian haven; and strolling the waterfront. Political junkies can tour the iconic Beehive, New Zealand’s Parliament building.
Moonrise on Kaikoura Beach, near Christchurch
Christchurch, “the garden city,” is the gateway to the South Island. Bordered by hills and the Pacific Ocean, it has a population of 375,000. The city is rising anew from the devastating earthquakes in 2010–2011, and is proud of the fact that within two hours of Christchurch International Airport (CHC), you can ski at an alpine resort; golf; bungee jump; go rafting, mountain biking, hot-air ballooning, wind surfing and whale watching; and take in world-class wineries and gardens.
Flyfishing the Ahuriri River, South Island
“The rebuild is well on its way to making Christchurch the newest and most innovative small city in the Western world,” says Caroline Blanchfield, manager of the Christchurch and Canterbury Convention Bureau. “All our hotels are brand new or refurbished stock. Christchurch has a variety of flexible meeting and event venues, from new hotel facilities to multi-purpose sports and exhibition spaces, and unique venues ideal for themed events.”
Christchurch Convention and Exhibition Centre, to be completed in 2017, will host up to 2,000 in 43,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibition space. Together with several new and existing conference hotels—such as the adjacent Crowne Plaza Hotel, opening in early 2016 with 200 guest rooms—Blanchfield expects a major economic return to the city and region.
“We are already seeing a huge upswing in future bid opportunities and we have several large pieces of business confirmed for the city from the end of 2018,” Blanchard says. “And inquiry levels and bid opportunities are already exceeding our expectations.”
The city already has a variety of unique venues, such as the Air Force Museum of New Zealand and Lincoln Events Centre, both with space for 1,100. Isaac Theatre Royal, which recently reopened, hosts up to 1,200.
Hotels with meeting space include Heritage Cristchurch (41 guest rooms; various rooms host up to 80) and Novotel Cristchurch Cathedral Square Hotel (154 guest rooms; five meeting rooms host up to 150).
“Caring for our guests is at the heart of our culture,” said Sue Sullivan, chief executive of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand, earlier this year. “The best way to describe our warm welcome is manaakitanga, a Maori word that means respect, humanity and kindness. It’s part of everything we do.” As it works to become a major player in the international meetings and conventions business, New Zealand extends a friendly hand to planners.
Auckland New Zealand Official Tourism - aucklandnz.com
Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism - christchurchnz.com
Discover Wellington - wellingtonnz.com
Tourism New Zealand - newzealand.com
Pac Rim Meetings in New Zealand
Conferences, in particular, reflect the importance of the Pacific Rim to New Zealand. Major conferences coming up include:
- Asia-Pacific Occupational Therapy Congress, September 2015
- Pacific Association of Quantity Surveyors, 2016
- World Federation of Chinese Medicine, 2016
- Asian Patent Attorney Association (APAA) Council Meeting, 2017
Pacific Rim By the Numbers
The number of Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition (MICE) visitors and resulting revenue:
- New Zealand—57,500; $360 million (year to June 2014)
- Australia—1 million; $2.3 billion (2012 figures)
- Thailand—1 million; $3 billion (2013 figures)
- Singapore—3.5 million; $4 billion (2013 figures)
Current capacity of largest venues
- Singapore—up to 45,000
- Australia—up to 3,500 (being upgraded to 8,000)
- New Zealand—up to 1,000
Source: New Zealand Herald