Convention centre plan hotly debated

GRANT BRYANT
Last updated 05:00 04/09/2013

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Everyone from "fearful" residents living on the proposed Queenstown Convention Centre site to supporters of the millions of dollars it could bring in shared their views on the topic yesterday.

The 32 people who spoke at a Queenstown Lakes District Council oral submissions hearing on the $50 million project were only a fraction of the 750-odd people who filed their written views on it - making the convention centre one of the most hotly debated subjects in Queenstown in recent years.

Some common themes of the submissions were that some ratepayers objected to the council funding the project, yet supported private business raising the capital needed to build a convention centre.

Some submitters also criticised the questions used in the council's questionnaires as inadequate or leading questions.

Many submitters also called into question the legitimacy of projected figures published in a scoping report commissioned by the council.

Chief among the figures questioned was that a convention centre would create 466 fulltime equivalent jobs.

However, Destination Queenstown chief executive officer Graeme Budd, in his submission, seemed to bite back at those questioning the numbers with some hard facts.

"The Queenstown Convention Bureau, which is part of Destination Queenstown, employs three staff who are working daily to secure conferences for Queenstown," he said.

"We have experience and expertise in Queenstown conferencing, and I think our knowledge could be considered in-depth, and we endorse all these figures."

Queenstown had lost 40 conferences of a 400 to 800-person capacity in the past year alone because there was not a dedicated conference facility that could handle that number of people, Mr Budd said.

The fact that Queenstown had missed out on that many conferences in itself was remarkable, as many people in the international conferencing industry were well aware Queenstown could not handle those numbers, so did not even bother inquiring, Mr Budd said.

The conferencing market was "fiercely competitive", and Queenstown would face stiff competition from venues in Australia and the Pacific Rim to become viable, but was faced with a "strike now" approach to capitalise on $158m of government funding earmarked this year to boost tourism.

"We need to capitalise on direct government investment available now, that may not be available in the future, and Queenstown is in the spotlight to take advantage of that."

Representing the Tourism Industry Association, long-time hotel manager Penny Clark endorsed a convention centre - and the view that Queenstown would have to work hard at marketing to make it pay off.

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"If a centre was built, we cannot sit here and be arrogant and expect that everyone has heard of Queenstown - it would take a good two years to get that message out."

Building a convention centre would make Queenstown's all-important tourism industry less reliant on leisure tourists, and bring in more corporate clients, Ms Clark said.

- The Southland Times

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