Opening speech for MEETINGS 2022

Economic and Regional Development

It is my pleasure to be here at MEETINGS 2022.

I want to start by thanking Lisa and Steve from Business Events Industry Aotearoa and everyone that has been involved in organising and hosting this event. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to welcome you all here. It is great to see so many of you in person.

I also want to take a moment to thank the people of Ōtautahi Christchurch. The warm welcome the city has for international business delegates and tourism in general is evident from arrival in this city, and here in the room today. I welcome the international hosted buyers and media who have travelled far. Thank you for coming to see the amazing business events infrastructure and opportunities New Zealand has to offer.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the wonderful building we are in today. Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre is a world-class, purpose-built event venue, and just one example of the quality event venues that New Zealand has to offer to the world, for our business events sector and more. It is also a core  part of the ongoing rejuvenation of  Christchurch , bringing more visitors and business to the local hospitality and retail sectors and enhancing the vibrancy of the city centre.

Christchurch and the Canterbury region hosted more than 5,000 business events in the year-ended March 2019, which represented 10% of all business events that year.

You will have heard me say this several times, but I want to acknowledge the resilience and endurance of the business events sector in the face of the challenges presented over the past couple years. There have been few opportunities to hold large scale face-to-face events, such as this one, which are crucial in fostering strong international connections and trade.

Business Events play an important role in enriching New Zealand beyond the economy. They deliver broader societal and knowledge benefits. Hosting an international conference is an opportunity to bring the world’s thought leaders to New Zealand while showcasing our expertise on a global stage. 

But I know that planning, bidding for and winning international conferences takes multiple years and the support of many people, from our academics and business bid champions, through to regional partners, venues and operators

As most of you here today are well aware, Tourism New Zealand supports those who would like to bid to host an international conference in New Zealand through its Conference Assistance Programme. Any internationally affiliated association or organisation is eligible to leverage this programme if the conference they wish to secure has a minimum of 200 international delegates and meets other criteria.

Business is rebuilding for this sector. In this financial year alone, Tourism New Zealand has supported more than 30 international conferences to be hosted here in the coming years. We are looking forward to welcoming an incredibly diverse line up of international experts in their fields, ranging from volcanologists, to pest control specialists, to surgeons.

Examples of conferences that New Zealand has attracted to host in recent times include the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ Annual Scientific Congress to be held in 2024 here at Te Pae Christchurch, the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior Conference to be held in Rotorua in 2023 and the International Coral Reef Symposium in Auckland in 2026.

The Government recognises the important role that business events play in the  broader tourism industry, with their potential to attract high-value international visitors to our regions and main centres.

These visitors deliver a positive economic contribution, but also bring opportunities to transfer knowledge and to build business networks or research collaborations. These contributions are beneficial to New Zealand as a whole. Business events create a flow of economic activity that differs from other types of events within the sector, acting as a strategic tool for inviting trade, investment and talent.   

The information shared and decisions made at business events can bring transformational change to communities - impacting areas from policy and legislation change, to public health initiatives, environmental action, economic growth and the creation of new jobs.

All the data show that international conference visitors spend more than any other visitor sector, and if delegates have a great experience here, they often come back as tourists. This is yet another reason why creating a fantastic impression and delivery a memorable experience is so important.

April 2022 saw the inclusion of business events in the Events Transition Support Payment scheme - this was a testimony to the importance of these events within the tourism industry and for New Zealand. We wanted the sector to continue organising events in the uncertain Covid-19 operating environment. I am, however, optimistic that events are unlikely to need to draw on this scheme going forward.

There are no longer gathering restrictions and our air borders are open to most of our key markets. It will not be long until cruise travellers and the rest of the world join them. The border reopening is another crucial step forward in New Zealand’s tourism recovery.

The Prime Minister’s trade missions this year will be a key part of re-igniting our international tourism. She has made it a priority to elevate the profile of this country in the minds of potential visitors as part of our reconnecting strategy. Already, the Prime Minister has led successful tourism and trade missions to the United States, Japan and Singapore.

Tourism New Zealand has also been working to reconnect us with the world. They have spent the last two years elevating ‘Brand New Zealand’ and promoting us as an aspirational destination to our key markets. Despite the positive shift to re-ignite international travel, it is likely to take some time for the tourism industry to recover.

I’ve been clear since the beginning of the pandemic that tourism will not return to the way it was.  Now is the time to look to the future and understand how the sector can rebuild in line with the Government’s strategy - in a way which is regenerative.

One of my core messages has been the need to transition to a ‘high-value’ tourism sector. Welcoming high-value and high-quality visitors who give back more than they take. We want visitors who are respectful, who are environmentally conscious and who engage with and learn from our local communities and culture.  

As such, business events visitors will have an important part to play in our tourism future. We all have a role to play creating the stories that will be told about Aotearoa New Zealand. When conferences and other business events come to New Zealand shores, we need to make sure we deliver on our global brand proposition, and we exceed visitors’ expectations.

A visitor’s experience is shaped by the big things – the flights they take, the hotels they book, the attractions they see and the activities they do.

But a visitor’s experience is also shaped by the little things. It is the little moments that people remember. The interactions they have with the cabin crew member, the concierge at check in, the waiter at the local café and the event staff at the conference they attend. The kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga is core to our visitor proposition. We care for and welcome our manuhiri (visitors).

All of these moments are opportunities to showcase Brand New Zealand. Because these are the moments that will make it into the stories visitors go on to tell. As you may have already heard me say in my speech at TRENZ last month, the role of innovation will be critical to tourism’s future success.

New Zealanders are famous for our innovation, creativity, and determination. We must use the uniquely challenging circumstances we now find ourselves in, to spur the development of new ideas, new ways of doing business and to reconnect with our markets, value chains and business partners.

The new $54 million Innovation Programme for Tourism Recovery, that I had the pleasure of announcing as part of Budget 2022, is designed to develop these real and transformational solutions that help to create the regenerative tourism model we are striving for.

The Programme will support the big initiatives that address the decarbonisation and sustainability of the industry, or initiatives that provide technological solutions to lift productivity and capability.

Because of this, the Programme is likely to be based on a sustainable co-investment model to allow Government and industry to share the risk associated with these transformational innovations. Engagement with stakeholders on the detailed parameters of the Innovation Programme for Tourism Recovery has already begun, I met a group of invited stakeholders for a first meeting in Wellington last week.

While we are still early in the design, I am confident in the Stakeholder Group to provide advice and insight that will ensure the Programme is fit for purpose and will support projects that will have flow on benefits for the tourism sector.

I will share more information on the Programme once the parameters have been decided.

Thank you again for the invitation to speak at this event.

I hope that you all make the most of this opportunity to connect with another and to showcase your unique offerings. I look forward to seeing the business events sector not only recover, but thrive.

Thank you, ngā mihi nui.