Final toast faces change of venue for 2015

Guests who attend next year's Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon post-race dinner might find themselves around a bonfire in a paddock following a bungled venue booking.

The Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon Finishing Toast has been held at the Marlborough Convention Centre in Blenheim for the past four years. However, next year the centre has been booked for the International Rotary Conference, which is taking place on May 9 - the same Saturday the half marathon has run for the past eight years.

Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon co-organiser Chris Shaw was treating the double-booking as an opportunity to make a bigger and better post-race event.

This year's Makana Confections Finishing Toast earlier this month was labelled a disaster after guests were evacuated when a fire alarm went off in the middle of dinner. The evening was "beyond a nightmare", Shaw said.

"It was completely gutting what happened," he said. "It wasn't what we planned."

He would not go into detail about what went wrong but said the fire alarm ruined the night.

"Everything unravelled after that."

Some guests complained that there hadn't been enough seating or food, but Shaw said the set-up was the same as it had been the past three years.

"If the fire alarm hadn't jammed stuff up it would have been fine," he said.

"We've dealt with people in-house and we're just moving on. We're planning for something next year which will be bigger and better."

He had no idea how the Convention Centre had managed to double-book the venue.

"It's given us this massive opportunity to look at what we do and see how we can make it better," he said. "To move somewhere where we can absolutely own the event."

He would not comment on where the event would be held, but said it would showcase Marlborough produce and follow the same rustic theme as the half marathon.

"Think sheds, paddock, bonfires and pigs on spits," he said.

"Think about what we do during the day, how we celebrate Marlborough produce. We want to take that into the evening."

He wasn't worried that two major events in Marlborough were happening on the same weekend and didn't think there would be a problem with accommodation.

But Marlborough Motel Association president Noel Noble said Marlborough would benefit more from events being spread out.

"It's a bit of a bone of contention, double booking two big events," he said.

"We'd be better off to have two or three or four reasonably busy weekends, rather than one when you're flat out."

Walk-ins were the "cream on the top" for motels and hotels, he said.

"Vacancy signs are what people look at," Noble said.

"If they can't get it here they go on to the next town."

This year the half marathon, which was estimated to have brought about 3500 people to Marlborough, was on the same weekend as the New Zealand Ploughing Championships, a show by comedian Billy Connolly, the Croads Honda Peter Brown Memorial Motocross and the Sport Tasman Muddy Buddy event.

Noble had talked to the organisers of the half marathon and the rotary conference, and said it appeared they had it "fairly well in-hand".

"The proof of the pudding will be in the eating," he said.

A spokesman for Scenic Hotel, which runs the Marlborough Convention Centre, declined to comment.

The Marlborough Express