Do not halve the convention centre budget

TIM HUNTER
Last updated 07:50 09/11/2012

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OPINION: Callam Mitchell's proposal on the Perspective page of Tuesday's issue of The Press to halve the convention centre capital budget in order to create a major events fund would disable the recovery of one of the city's proven and high-yield tourism sectors.

Before our earthquake events our old convention centre delivered more than 50 conference and trade show events a year, but was economically compromised by a lack of scale that made it difficult to host multiple events. This resulted in the city turning away a lot of business.

The proposed scaling-up to a 2000-person facility is not primarily predicated on hosting larger events, as Mitchell suggests; it is essentially about improving the size and flexibility of the venue to enable the hosting of multiple events at the same time.

A $200 million-plus price tag is required to build the meeting and function spaces that will make us competitive in the Australasian conference market. This price tag sits at the modest end of the capital scale for such a facility.

Convention centres around the world are commonly funded by civic authorities because of the wide scale benefits that they bring to a broad range of urban businesses and the jobs they create. Accommodation, hospitality, transport and retail providers benefit significantly from conferences as domestic delegates spend more than $1200 and international delegates $2500 whilst in our city.

This far surpasses the general leisure tourism expenditure. Whilst return on investment on convention centres is typically weak for the core facility asset, it is fundamentally better than most public buildings and is highly productive for the myriad of local businesses that feed off its patronage and the tourism activity that typically flows pre and post conference.

Once fully operational a new 2000 person convention centre has reasonable certainty of delivering 80-90 conference or trade show events a year with a total economic output exceeding $100m a year. Of greater benefit to our local economy is the fact that the highest proportion of this expenditure is generated in the winter period when hotels, hospitality and retail businesses in the city have little leisure based tourism and most need financial nourishment.

For Christchurch the re-establishment of the convention centre will have a material impact on the investment confidence in the hotel sector, which remains in a dangerously fragile state in the wake of the earthquakes of 2011. If we intend to remain New Zealand's second largest city and tourism arrival hub we need to offer a full range of visitor services to be taken seriously.

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In 2009/2010 Christchurch enjoyed a 25 per cent share of the multi day conference market in New Zealand and was regarded as the most attractive conference city in New Zealand. We have the potential to do even better, but we have to hold true to a vision to renew our investment in the capability lost to achieve this.

Tim Hunter is chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism.

- The Press

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