New convention centre could recoup business

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 05:00 15/05/2014
Tim Hunter
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ

OPTIMISTIC: Tim Hunter, chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, is now optimistic a new convention centre will be built.

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Christchurch has the potential to become New Zealand's top business conferencing city again if a new convention centre is built, says tourism boss Tim Hunter.

The chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism said he was more optimistic about a convention centre being built having talked to the Christchurch City Development Unit yesterday.

CCDU is part of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and is helping lead anchor projects for the rebuild.

The city lost nearly all of its conference market after the 2011 earthquakes, Hunter told city councillors yesterday, as part of the council's 2014/15 annual plan submissions.

As a result of quake damage Christchurch went from New Zealand's "most preferred" conference city, having 24 per cent share of the national conference market, to only 2 per cent.

Through the efforts of CCT, its convention bureau and other hosts in the sector they had regrown that national share to 9 per cent.

Hunter said Christchurch could further increase that national share to about 12 per cent in the foreseeable future.

But beyond that, extra infrastructure including a convention centre would be needed.

A good convention facility would bring hoteliers back willing to build new hotels, he said.

"The moment they start laying foundations for it [a convention centre] and people see that it's real, I think you'll see a material change in investor confidence . . we feel that from the discussions we've had with people that are interested in (building) hotels, that they really want to see proof it's being built before they make a commitment."

The Christchurch hotel sector had around 44 per cent of the beds it had before the earthquakes.

Councillor Glenn Livingstone asked Hunter how Christchurch was being served by smaller conference facilities, including the Wigram airforce museum.

Hunter said while these were a welcome part of the infrastructure, long term they did not have the necessary flexibility of a larger facility.

Some conference organisers simply crossed Christchurch off as an option because of difficulties including transport from accommodation to conference facilities, he said.

"We're getting a lot of inquiries 2016, 17, 18 - but the big ones we just cannot get them confirmed at the moment without a convention centre.

The council gave a total of $2.85 million of annual funding including $500,000 under a Government-Christchurch Airport joint scheme, he said.

There was a further $1.3m of partnered investment in marketing from non-council and Government sources.

Hunter told the council the impacts of the 2010-11 earthquakes on tourism as one of the region's major economic sectors had been profound.

Christchurch's biggest market, the Australian holiday market was 40 per cent lower than in 2010 and had only recovered 6 per cent in the last three years despite significant improvements in tourism infrastructure.

"(However) this year I'm confident that we will finally see trans-Tasman airlines bring more capacity to our Christchurch routes, and they need to do it because over the last summer they have been bursting at the seams," he said.

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