As New Zealand’s national lockdown readies for a downgrade to Level 3 from today (September 1), business events stakeholders are expressing optimism in being able to bounce back once the ordeal is over.
The lockdown comes two weeks after the first case of the highly-contagious Delta variant was found on August 17, prompting prime minister Jacinda Ardern to enact a nationwide lockdown. Auckland will, however, remain in full lockdown – level 4 – for another two weeks due to the number of active cases.
Megan Crum, head of business events, ChristchurchNZ, told TTGmice: “While New Zealand’s recent lockdown has been disappointing and disheartening for Christchurch’s business events sector, the city is well-placed to welcome back business events once the country’s alert levels drop. With no active community cases in our region, we are continuing to plan and book business events here.”
Crum added that the purpose-built convention centre, Te Pae Christchurch, is on track to open at the end of this year.
Despite the pandemic, Crum added that the Christchurch Convention Bureau continues to be “extremely active” in bidding and securing events for the city, with five confirmed in the last eight weeks, with an estimated combined total of 2,000 delegates.
“New Zealand has had over 170 days of no restrictions. During that time our domestic market was supporting the industry at levels never experienced,” Lisa Hopkins, CEO at Business Events Industry Aotearoa (BEIA), told TTGmice.
“As always, this industry fortifies itself by adapting and with experience of previous lockdowns, we know what to do. However, the Delta variant of Covid operates in a very different way and we have had to adjust again.”
Both Crum and Hopkins shared that a majority of conferences and corporate events that were supposed to be held during this period have not cancelled but are, instead, postponed to a later date as many already have risk management plans in place.
However, Crum stated there is a “desire from our industry partners to see a staged border opening strategy” to help them plan for the future.
“When the travel bubble with Australia “popped”, we expected some downturn, but it was encouraging to see Australian groups simply push back dates versus cancel. We are seeing very few cancellations, with postponements more prevalent,” agreed Hopkins.
Similarly for Richard Clarke, head of major and business events at Auckland Unlimited, shared that the latest lockdown has “affected 11 events” and “impacted its upcoming calendar of events”, their partners are focusing on rescheduling as opposed to cancelling events.
“The advantage of business events is that we work with long lead times which offers the opportunity to continue to support and work closely with our partners on alternative delivery options, including hybrid events,” noted Clarke.
BEIA has also launched a campaign called BE Vaccinated to help members reconnect with the world through vaccinations, though Hopkins has indicated the industry would like to see this “accelerated dramatically”.
According to Reuters, just about 21 per cent of the country’s 5.1 million people have been fully vaccinated, lagging behind most of the developed world.
Hopkins concluded: “New Zealand’s approach to Covid is one of elimination, so we are in this for the longhaul. We know that safety and security is the number one consideration when choosing a destination for a business event, and we are confident that the actions we take now will ensure our manuhiri (guests) can be confident in their selection.”