Conference Talk: What Does the Future Hold for Our Conference Industry? Will New Zealand's Traditional Multi-Purpose Venues Continue to Attract the International Conference Market? or Will Competition from the Increasing Number of Purpose-Built Centres in Other Countries Prove Our Downfall?

By Ombler, Kathy | New Zealand Management, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Conference Talk: What Does the Future Hold for Our Conference Industry? Will New Zealand's Traditional Multi-Purpose Venues Continue to Attract the International Conference Market? or Will Competition from the Increasing Number of Purpose-Built Centres in Other Countries Prove Our Downfall?


Ombler, Kathy, New Zealand Management


While local opinion differs as to the benefits or otherwise of multi-purpose venues, those involved in the conference industry here agree on the benefits it brings to the New Zealand economy, particularly during the low tourist season, and on the need for constantly fine-tuning operations to deliver--and exceed--client expectations.

Alan Trotter, chief executive of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ), says the key driver for change in today's conference market is that, on an international basis, many new venues are coming on stream that are custom designed for conventions, exhibitions and meetings.

"The customer, therefore, has more choice and has become increasingly more discerning. Traditionally, many venues have been a combination of performing arts as well as convention and exhibition facilities, and increasingly this option will be less acceptable, particularly to the international market."

However at Manukau City's Telstra-Clear Pacific Centre, a multi-purpose venue catering for sporting and cultural events, performing arts, functions and meetings, deliberate design has been the key to developing a highly successful operation, according to chief executive Richard Jeffery.

"We designed the venue around the business plan and not the other way around. The reason many multi-purpose venues come about is that after their initial plan fails they build add-ons that don't work, for example they will build function rooms onto a sports stadium, then find the kitchen is too far away.

"As with the Cairns Convention Centre--one of the first multi-purpose centres achieved for both sport and conferencing--we have specifically designed seating configurations so we can create a different ambience and setting, with quick turnarounds and therefore economies in labour savings for clients."

Deliberate design or not, there are benefits when attracting the corporate meetings market to a multi-purpose venue, as explained by Kate Fleming, sales and marketing manager, Westpac Stadium Hospitality.

"Being a multi-purpose venue works in our favour as often it's the people who come to a sporting or cultural event at the Stadium who become aware of our function facilities and make subsequent bookings.

"Also the whole atmosphere works well for those looking to add another dimension to their event- perhaps promoting a sporting theme or taking advantage of the outside accessibility for team-building activities which may be difficult in a conference-only venue. The sheer size and nature of the Stadium allows us to offer unique opportunities such as using the replay screen and outdoor PA system, or hold expos on the concourse. It's all about making the most of our point of difference and working with clients to help them achieve memorable and successful events."

Similarly, Alan Trotter acknowledges that a key advantage when a convention centre is also a performing arts centre is the ability to utilise lighting, music, theming and other theatrical experiences for guests.

The reality in New Zealand is that most current meeting venues, multi-purpose or otherwise, do not have the luxury of being custom designed and, in a fiercely competitive industry, must strive to keep ahead of trends and deliver in an innovative manner what the client wants. No longer can the tried and true venues continue to trade on their name or reputation, as organisers now often equate newness with quality, says Kathy Guy, general manager of Wairakei Resort and Chateau Tongariro.

"Venue managers must involve themselves in the industry to become aware of what is changing and, as with any business, adapt to those changes."

Nikki Goodwin, national sales executive for VBase Management Group, agrees it is vital to keep abreast of new technology and trends in the national and international markets. Vbase manages the four venues incorporated in the Christchurch Convention Centre. …

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