Auckland is a dynamic and multicultural city which is reflected in its vibrant visitor economy. In New Zealand’s most diverse region with over 220 cultures calling it home, this vibrancy has been halted but continues to fuel the plans of a premium event destination.
As the region’s economic and cultural agency, Auckland Unlimited is committed to making this financial hub a desirable place to live, work, visit, and do business. No wonder that last year, Auckland was named the best MICE destination in Oceania at the inaugural World MICE Awards 2020. “Business and major events are incredibly important to Auckland’s transition to a more resilient and sustainable destination, and this is reflected in our strategic planning,” says Richard Clarke (pictured left), Head of Major and Business Events at Auckland Unlimited. Over the past year, the work to support the recovery of Auckland’s visitor economy has been guided by the Destination AKL Recovery Plan, which was developed in May 2020 on behalf of industry. This plan is governed by the principles of kotahitanga (collaboration), kaitiakitanga (guardianship), manaakitanga (a warm welcome), and the strong foundations of the Destination AKL 2025 strategy, which set the direction in 2018 for a more sustainable future.
Since March 2020, Auckland has endured four lockdowns of varying scales, however, the events sector has shown incredible determination in navigating an ever-changing environment. “We partner with the New Zealand Government, Tourism Industry Aotearoa, Business Events Industry Aotearoa and Tourism New Zealand to support businesses through the Regional Business Partner Network,” says Clarke. Through this, they have helped thousands of Auckland’s small to medium sized enterprises, including businesses in the events sector, access nearly NZ$18 million worth of support between March and October 2020. In this transition, Auckland has been focused on supporting the delivery of domestic conferences, incentives and events, and working with its international clients to postpone or reshape their conferences to hybrid or virtual formats. There has been significant positive growth in the sector around the opening of several new hotels, restaurants, bars and attractions in the past six months, all boosting the region’s world-class offer. Clarke confirmed that “the Auckland Convention Bureau (ACB) team has been pursuing bids for international conferences until 2028, securing to date, the Annual Conference of the International Association of Women in Police in 2023 and the Coral Reef International Symposium of the Society in mid-2026.”
To this end, the initiative created by the New Zealand government, Regional Events Fund, will allow Auckland to receive NZ$ 17 million to support major and business events over the next four years. “As one of three funding programs, fund will focus on attracting and developing hybrid events for international engagement through digital platforms.” Meanwhile, rotating association conferences in the Asia-Pacific region are an important focus for Auckland Unlimited, with quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia confirmed as of mid-April 2021. “Working alongside us we also have the Auckland International Business Events Advisory Group, a group of business event experts who provide strategic guidance, market intelligence and leadership,” adds the Head of Business Events. Another strong support network is the Auckland Advocate Alliance, which brings together a group of leaders from diverse sectors and communities with more than 50 advocates and a series of success stories, including the International Conference on Privacy, Security and Trust secured for the second time in Auckland.
New Zealand’s response to COVID-19 has seen a low transmission in the community, and the Australian Lowry Institute classified New Zealand as the safest country in the pandemic. “The health and safety of everyone remains our priority and we are working closely with our members on the safe delivery of events,” says Clarke. Thanks to the assistance of the Business Events Industry Aotearoa, AIPC, ICCA and UFI, guidelines for convention and exhibition centres, and congress organisers were delivered for a smooth and safe reopening of business. “Whilst we have not been able to attend offshore events in person, Auckland continues to be part of international industry conversions, including the virtual MICE event at the end of 2020.”
Several organisers are investing in the delivery of events in virtual formats to reshape their products. For example, the Conference Company, one of the most respected meeting planners in Australasia, has been exploring the opportunity to strengthen its capabilities in this hybrid formula, to continue operating. Another key example was the 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity which went fully virtual and managed to cover the registration fees of more than 100 participants from developing countries. “While meeting face-to-face is still the preferred way, it’s important to acknowledge that hybrid events will offer strong opportunities to engage, share knowledge and create benefits for regions.”
Finally, Auckland Unlimited recently released a report that aims to help the region’s businesses and organisations understand environmental challenges and opportunities. The report, “Climate Change and Economic Recovery: Challenges Facing Auckland Businesses and Using Recovery to Support Resilience”, complements the region’s shared roadmap for transitioning to a net zero-carbon economy − Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri: Auckland Climate Plan. This means repurposing the visitor economy to be in line with the Destination AKL 2025 strategy and focus on a more resilient ecosystem. “The industry recognises the importance of delivering carbon neutral and zero waste events, and the response from organisers and facilities has been positive,” concludes Clarke. Many existing venues have several environmental initiatives underway, such as digital inventories and innovative waste management, with the New Zealand International Convention Centre expected to be completely carbon neutral. Auckland is also a part of the C40 Cities of Climate Leadership Group, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change.
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