Wednesday Letter: Sue Sullivan

Following this year’s conference in Dunedin, CINZ CEO Sue Sullivan writes on how the industry can drive value, NZ’s expertise advantage, unlocking the Australian market, and growing the sector to $750m by 2020. 

Sue Sullivan

The conference and incentive sector is experiencing good times. I have spoken to many people who are busy, both with international and domestic activity.

The slow times are less frequent, the incentive spend is considerable, the lead times are shortening and the seasonality is shoulder and off-season, suiting those that are strong in the tourism sector.

But now is not a time to rest on our laurels. Now is a time to build on our strong foundation and continue to drive value from the sector which delivers high-value visitors to New Zealand.

You may have heard it before but it bears repeating, the typical international convention delegate has a nightly spend of $334 – almost double the average nightly spending of all international visitors.

Speaking at our annual conference in Dunedin last week, I unveiled our new three-year strategy for 2018-2020 which is built around the CINZ pillars of industry voice, education, opportunity and insight.

The strategy has the bold goal of driving $750m of value from New Zealand’s conference and business events sector annually.

This is an achievable goal – some 5% annually up on the current $558m spent by multi-day convention delegates MBIE’s 2016 Convention Delegate Survey.

It is achievable for a number of reasons, the main one being a previously under-utilised asset – Australia.

The market in Australia knows we can deliver – we are slick and can stage world-class events with a uniquely New Zealand flavour.

It is a single flight from across the Tasman to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown – in many cases it is quicker to get to NZ from the east coast of Australia than it is to Perth.

As well as this, internationally connectivity to Australia – and beyond – NZ’s domestic connectivity is a huge asset.

International delegates spend an average of six nights in New Zealand including 1.8 nights elsewhere in New Zealand.

In practice this means delegates coming for a conference in Auckland and then flying to Cape Kidnappers in the Hawkes Bay, for example, for a few nights of indulgence.

This could be as part of an incentives package tacked on to the event, or it could be a delegate choosing to add on some R&R, but either way it is an opportunity for a small country with short internal travel times and a wealth of fantastic experiences to drive value.

It also means that as a sector we are delivering to the Tourism 2025 strategic objective of regional dispersal, on top of the high-value and off-seasonality visitation we as a sector provide.

New Zealand’s reputation on a worldwide stage for areas of expertise presents another opportunity. This might be structural engineering in Christchurch, thermal energy in Rotorua, viticulture in Marlborough or adventure in Queenstown.

These pockets of expertise will attract events in that sector to those regions. And it is the job of our members, with our support, to capitalise on that kind of expertise – along with everything else NZ offers – to win events.

Driving towards this goal of $750m by 2020 also present the perfect platform to launch our new convention centre assets.

In recent years growth has been steady, but not spectacular, in part due to losing the Christchurch convention centre. Before it was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake, it had 24% of NZ’s conference market and 42% of the conferences that came from Australia.

Christchurch’s new $240m 2000-capacity venue is now underway and set to come on stream in the first quarter of 2020, with the first bookings to be taken mid-to-late that year.

And, of course, the addition of the New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland, scheduled for completion in 2019, means NZ can now compete to be on rotation of larger global conferences which could not previously be hosted here.

And we will do our part to aid this growth too. In conjunction with our partners Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand we run regional updates to “share what we hear” from the market.

To share insight into what international event planners or incentive buyers want, and what regional convention bureaus, venues and suppliers can do to meet those needs.

Within the strategy are the CINZ four pillars, this is who we are and what we do:

  • Industry Voice
  • Education
  • Opportunity
  • Insights

The opportunity is there, now is time to take it.

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