A new angle

New Zealand has evaluated and reimagined what it desires for the business events sector during its long border closure

New Zealand has made some significant shifts through the pandemic with the high-value customer, sustainability and Maori culture now playing greater roles than ever in its business tourism story.

For instance, visitors to Auckland may be surprised to find changes in the hotel scene, where despite an excellent range of quality accommodation on offer, only the new Park Hyatt makes the grade for a true five star rating.

Auckland has changed its strategy to see that it appeals to the entire spectrum of business events

“Some of the decisions that we made at the beginning of the pandemic are now starting to come to fruition,” said Ken Pereira, head of Auckland Convention Bureau. “We considered a shift in strategy to position Auckland as an incentive destination and although we’d begun some of that work previously, the pandemic certainly accelerated some of those plans for us.”

Also accelerated are destination partnerships, like the one Auckland has developed with Queenstown, to offer visitors contrasting dual destination experiences that are especially appealing for those arriving from longhaul flights.

Another trend that will impress many visitors is the depth of innovative thought in doing things more sustainably. Local hotel brand Sudima for example, provides unique amenities like period undies and fragrant shower bombs that also clean out the bathroom drains.

Auckland is also building a carbon neutral convention centre in the New Zealand International Convention Centre, while Te Pae Christchurch has garnered sustainability accolades in its inaugural year, including the Toitu enviromark gold certification and the Qualmark Sustainable Tourism Business Award.

Te Pae’s creative efforts to minimise food waste are impressive. With the help of a dehydrator, food waste is reduced to a mere 10 per cent, which is then repurposed as compost for community gardens. Vegetables arrive in reusable crates, eliminating the need for single-use packaging. An innovative eWater system uses magnetic charge to sanitise water, removing the necessity for harsh chemical cleaners.

“We’re all in this together as an industry and we are driven by both our team and our clients,” said Ross Steele, Te Pae Christchurch’s general manager.

“The other thing that I think is going to be really important in the longer term is being able to get your carbon credits as locally as possible. That’s where you want to leave a legacy in the city that’s hosting your conference,” he opined.

Also striking is the increasingly pronounced expression of the country’s unique Maori culture in the business events sector.

Wellington’s newly opened Tãkina Convention and Exhibition Centre is a case in point, featuring three levels that morph from dark to light colours, transitioning from Mother Earth to Father Sky according to Maori mythology. The building also features a Maori stone that visitors can touch, chosen from a local riverbed that is believed to bring the strength of the earth into the centre.

“The Maori economy has been growing at a rapid rate and is now valued at NZ$70 billion,” said Paul Retimanu, managing director of Manaaki Management Limited and chair of the Pacific Business Trust.

“What we’re seeing now are people wanting some form of cultural experience to open their conference or if it’s that tourism experience, they want to know who the people of the land are, their protocols and what’s important to them,” he continued.

But the demand for Maori representation in events has introduced new pressures.

“Everybody wants this Maori piece now,” observed Retimanu. “There’s a real stress and tension on Maori educators because (the government has also) made these pieces part of the school curriculum.

“At the moment we’re fine but in another 12 months as (international travel normalises) and all the conferences come back, we probably won’t have enough people to meet the demand,” he noted.

Meantime visitors can enjoy “a wide spectrum” of Maori experiences on offer for business events.

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