02 August 2019

New Zealand International Convention Centre’s director of sales, Prue Daly, talks to Tourism Tickers' - Jane King about the business development of NZ’s largest convention centre, the intensely competitive global business events marketplace, and the opportunities arising from the expansion of new convention centres across the country.

"New Zealand International Convention Centre’s director of sales, Prue Daly, on the business development of NZ’s largest convention centre, the intensely competitive global business events marketplace, and the opportunities arising from the expansion of new convention centres across the country.

NZICC is a joint venture between Sky City Entertainment Group and the New Zealand government. Opening in Auckland in 2020, the convention centre will be New Zealand’s largest, with facilities five times larger than any of the current convention centre infrastructure currently in existence.

The NZICC capacity and flexibility will enable us to host events from 2 people to over 4000. Conventions are a big part of our business, but we will also host smaller meetings, functions, civic, concerts and sporting events. Our customer base is broad.

The government’s objectives for the convention centre is primarily to attract and bring large scale international conferences. It is a market New Zealand has not previously been able to compete in due to the lack of infrastructure.

At the NZICC we have a team of 12 and, until now, we’ve been focused on chasing the international convention business and our operations. We’re excited to have confirmed conferences for the Asia Pacific Association for International Education, in March 2021, where we are expecting 2500 people, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), in August 2022, with 2850 people expected.

Closer to opening, especially within the domestic market, we will have a broader mix of business that we’ll be working on. The domestic market opportunities will be our bread and butter, generating a large proportion of our repeat business. We’re just coming into the timeframe where domestic bookings are choosing to book, so our domestic sales team are actively working with clients on facilitating events to meet their requirements.

Our team will grow slowly this year and we anticipate large growth on the horizon in 2020 in preparation for opening.

Bidding for international events is more often than not a long and complex process (sometimes taking 2-3 years), alongside Auckland Convention Bureau and Tourism New Zealand, it’s a fiercely competitive market in the international space. There’s a large research piece that has to happen before we can get into a bidding position. It’s almost like a mini Olympic bid as we’re up against global destinations.

It’s not as simple as approaching international congresses and inviting them to host their conference in New Zealand. We need to ‘sell’ New Zealand as a smart place for them to bring their business to, they need to benefit financially from our thought economy and from our local sectors natural advantage. It’s the hard sell where it is the brains, not the beauty they want.

Aucklands sectors of competitive advantage gives us significant bidding opportunities for international conferences.

The process determines that we have to identify a local host, someone based in New Zealand who is a leader or expert in that conference field, talk to them about their involvement and how NZICC, Auckland Convention Bureau and Tourism New Zealand partner together to support them to bid for their conference.

Once we have established local support, the local host can then approach the international association on behalf of New Zealand and propose an application to host a future conference. Often, we have to bid a number of times for a piece of business. There’s a huge amount of effort that goes into a bid, so when we win those international pieces of business, it’s a really sweet win.

Planning years in advance requires us to have a forward-thinking approach and long-term mindset as well as some excellent calendar management skills! We are currently working on international events that are planned for 2028 and there really are no booking patterns – other than avoiding major events such as America’s Cup, public and school holidays. Having such long lead times in the international space is beneficial for our domestic business planning as 1-2 years out we have a pretty good idea of what is in the pipeline.

When we are selling within the international market, we partner with Tourism New Zealand because we know that globally we need to promote New Zealand first. Once we’ve established that there is a strong desire to bring a conference to New Zealand, we can start to work out which city is the best fit. We do this at key trade shows in markets like IMEX and PCMA.

Domestically we sell direct via meetings and one-on-one conversations with clients. We deal with professional conference organisers and PCOs are an important client segment for us, but we also deal with a lot of event organisers, concert promoters or PAs. Our client segments are broad.

We’ve got a great team – I’m very proud of them. We’re all really driven and passionate about what we do and about collaborating with our partners and clients to create a great experience for every visitor whether during the negotiations phase or delivering the event. Working on a very exciting project comes with a great deal of pressure.

The NZICC team on site in March, from left Sheena Zheng, Alana Bicknell, David Allott, Sarah Burilin, Prue Daly, Katie Page, Ken Pereira, Brooke Campbell. Has since grown with the addition of Lisa McNally and Josphine Hutton. See team here.

Our biggest challenge is the competitive international landscape. Within the last few years, many global destinations have realised the benefits business events bring to a destination and some have huge funding support from their governments and cities. Australia announced a support fund of $12m last year to help incentivise business events to the country. And that $12m doesn’t include any additional funding individual cities may provide.

New Zealand, as a country, doesn’t play in that space. And that’s not to say that we won’t do well, because we will. It just means we have to work that little bit harder and smarter to find the opportunities that really align with our sectors of competitive advantage. We ensure we chase the right kind of business that will give great benefit back to our economy, and never just compete solely a dollar amount with destinations/cities that have huge funding behind them.

The convention centres in Australia are strong competition for us. Melbourne Convention Centre has just opened a new expansion, Cairns have announced a future expansion and Sydney opened a brand new centre a couple of years ago – all of whom are really hungry for the same business.

New Zealand has a great reputation from a business events perspective due to the efficient team effort we have working with Tourism New Zealand and Auckland Convention Bureau – we collaborate really well together, and our combined efforts are strong.

It’s a massive phase of growth for New Zealand generally, with the investment in Te Pae Convention and Exhibition Centre in Christchurch and the Wellington Convention Centre. This development allows us to raise our profile as a country within a market that we haven’t had an amazing profile within for larger scale business previously.

It’s such an exciting time for Auckland and especially for business events, with NZICC opening along with lots of new accommodation infrastructure coming online as well, not to mention all the work that’s being done for the America’s Cup in 2021.

When I’m out internationally at trade shows, a lot of people consider New Zealand for smaller events and incentive groups, but now we have extremely exciting growth opportunities for our country and business events community.

Conference delegates are known to be high-value visitors to New Zealand, it’s not just the money they spend on the conference but the regions they visit afterwards, the ongoing relationships formed, the opportunities for investment and partnerships and also returning with family and friends to a country they had a positive and safe experience in.

The NZICC will open in the second half of 2020 and we’re very excited."

Prue Daly spoke to Jane King for this column. If you’d like to contribute to our Buy Side/Sell Side column, contact jane@tourismticker.com.