Convention centre may hit Chch tourism

DAVE BURGESS AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 14:06 20/05/2014

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A proposed new convention centre for Wellington is a "positive thing" for Christchurch, the city's rebuild authority says.

However, tourism sector leaders have expressed concerns the new five-star Hilton Hotel with a 2500-capacity conference centre could cut into future business for Christchurch operators.

Wellington City Council confirmed yesterday a 165-bed Hilton would include a purpose-built conference facility, making it the third largest in the country should it open as hoped in 2017.

Christchurch's own convention centre project has also been promised to be open by 2017, with capacity for 2000 people initially.

Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) director Warwick Isaacs said the Wellington proposal was seen as a "positive thing" for Christchurch and New Zealand.

"It will be part of a network of top-class modern convention centres, including Auckland and Queenstown, that complement each other," he said.

"I have no concerns about Wellington taking away any business from Christchurch as the destinations offer different advantages and experiences."

Isaacs said the CCDU was working towards appointing a company to design, build and operate Christchurch's proposed convention centre precinct.

An update on the $284 million project was expected to be available "in the coming weeks".

Canterbury and Christchurch Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said the city's old convention centre often ran to capacity and there was ''no doubt'' New Zealand had room for more facilities.

He expected Christchurch's new facility would have capacity for about 1500 to 2000 people, putting it at the smaller end of the Australasian conference market, and meaning Wellington would be competing more with Auckland than Christchurch for the largest events.

Hunter was ''encouraged'' to know the CCDU still planned to stick to its 2017 deadline for opening the new Christchurch centre, but said more details on the plans were needed soon as most large conferences were booked about three years in advance.

''I think the convention industry has waited patiently for something to happen; speed is the essence here."

The region's earthquakes caused the city to go from being New Zealand's "most preferred" conference city, with a 24 per cent share of the national conference market, to only 2 per cent.

The share had since grown to 9 per cent and Christchurch could increase that to 12 per cent in the near future, but extra infrastructure, including a convention centre, would be needed beyond that, Hunter said.

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Wellington's proposed new venue would be branded, marketed and managed by the Hilton chain which, unlike the proposed Auckland Sky City convention centre, does not operate casinos. 

The cost of the hotel-conference centre has not been released but it would provide about 350 new jobs.

Head developer-investor Wellington's Mark Dunajtschik confirmed the Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre would be built on Cable St opposite Te Papa should the proposal get the green light.

Wellington City Council would provide an as-yet unspecified amount for the project but only if the business case, which is still being developed, stacked up and was approved by the full council next month.

There is considerable investment in new conference facilities around the country and within four years there is expected to be capacity for 6500 more conference delegates in Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown, the Wellington City Council said.

The Tourism Association Industry's Canterbury hotels sector chairman, Bruce Garrett, said there were "pros and cons" to having another convention centre in New Zealand.

However, there would be occasions where Christchurch and Wellington would be competing for the same events.

"Conference delegates like going to different locations, so to a certain extent that will help . . . cement New Zealand as a desirable destination and people will be able to come back and back and have different experiences."

"New Zealand is only a relatively small country and there are only so many conference centres we can sustain, so there is a risk that they'll end up competing against each other."

Garrett said it was "about time" Wellington had a "decent" convention centre.

"The question really is can New Zealand sustain more convention centres and I think it can."

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said every city wanted to build a convention centre, but not every city had the "strategic location" Christchurch had.

"If other cities want to build convention centres then good on them. We have a more than competitive proposal."

Other cities were "no match" for Christchurch's proposed facility given its place in the South Island and proximity to an international airport.

"We're in a really good place to play the market," Townsend said.

- The Press

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