Reopening stronger

The business climate is improving as borders reopen, and René de Monchy, Tourism New Zealand’s chief executive, is certain that business events will help ignite the country’s recovery, with a projected rebound to pre-pandemic levels by 2024

What has New Zealand been doing to gear up for international events?
We have some great new infrastructure coming online. We have Te Pae in Christchurch which just opened in December 2021, and we’re working on Tākina in Wellington that’s due to open in 2023. There’s also the New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland that will open in the next few years.

There have been very positive reactions about the three new convention centres from a number of international associations that have previously wanted to bring their conference to New Zealand, but we have not had the capacity to accommodate their delegate numbers.

New hotels have also opened, and operators have been adjusting experiences and creating new products, such as the All Blacks Experience or Wēta Unleashed, which can be worked into MICE programmes.

Although infrastructure is a core piece of the puzzle, there remains a very strong commitment from multiple aspects of the government – including us at Tourism New Zealand – in terms of understanding the importance of MICE events. They enable knowledge exchange, help our experts here learn, and export our knowledge.

What are some of the challenges you foresee?
The challenge at the moment is still about general health and safety. People are asking questions like – When can I visit? What happens if I get stuck? What if I test positive? – which may stop them from travelling for the time being.

Some New Zealand MICE industry suppliers have also closed or have moved on to do something different. But now with the certainty of border reopenings, those that remain can plan with a strong degree of confidence.

Also, I know that New Zealand is not the closest destination, so enticing delegates to fly here is another challenge. But New Zealand has a variety of experiences, there are lots of different things to do, so we’re trying to attract incentives as well as entice MICE attendees to extend their trips.

For now, we have also adjusted our priorities in the short-term, which includes placing more focus on groups that can access New Zealand via direct flights.

What does New Zealand’s business events look like for the short- and long-term?
Throughout the pandemic we have continued to bid for business. Initially, we saw a drop off in interest as there was a lot of uncertainty, but due to the nature of the booking timelines in the MICE industry there has still been a lot of interest in the last 12 months. We’re expecting to rebound to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

There are plenty of opportunities out there. We are seeing increased interest from universities, professional societies, crown research institutes, and the Royal Society with people interested in reengaging with their international colleagues and partners. There is also more confidence to proceed with bidding for international conferences.

It’s looking quite positive overall. We participated at the recent AIME in Melbourne – our first in over two years – and we felt that there was strong interest in what New Zealand can offer.

In June, we will hold our own MEETINGS show. This is a fantastic opportunity to show the world we are ready to welcome international events back. We need events like this to get things started, as it is a great opportunity for the New Zealand suppliers to get together and meet with international buyers.

What role do convention bureaus play in recovering business?
I think convention bureaus still have a role to play as local experts – to let PCOs and PEOs know what’s on offer. They will be the best people to approach to show what ideas are possible, as well as provide connections with local suppliers.

In some ways, for New Zealand, the pandemic has impacted the execution of a number of physical events, but it has not slowed down the attraction of future MICE events that are three, four, or even five years in the future. Bidding has continued relatively unabated, and New Zealand convention bureaus will continue to play their part in strongly pitching for – and securing – future events, by presenting their destination’s ability to conduct virtual and hybrid events.

I mention hybrid events as I believe New Zealand will be welcoming more hybrid events in the future. Covid-19 has rapidly increased the digitalisation of many things, including meetings, but you can never replace face-to-face (events).

Several international events that we have won include the Amway Vietnam Incentive 2023, which will bring 330 delegates, and the International Coral Reef Symposium 2026, which will bring 2,500 delegates to the country.

Does New Zealand offer a bid fund?
We do! We have a Conference Assistance Programme (CAP) which is a flexible programme to attract business and support the industry where it is needed. We work closely with our bid champions or anyone considering a conference in New Zealand to find solutions that work for their requirements, regardless of whether they are feasibility studies, bid document support, funding to present the document or marketing support.

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