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Optimism for business events industry despite warnings of long road ahead

Hundreds of people gathered this week to discuss reviving New Zealand’s $1.5 billion convention industry after the Covid-19 pandemic saw it almost wiped out.

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There is a long road ahead for New Zealand’s $1.5 billion convention industry. Source: 1 NEWS

Cancelled in 2020, the MEETINGS 2021 event attracted more than 50 tourism buyers from Australia plus hundreds from New Zealand.

The event is not just about attracting businesses to spend days in a convention centre, but also to experience tourism activities around the country.

"Business events are the highest value component of the visitor economy, so getting this back up and running is vital," Steve Armitage, general manager of Auckland Unlimited, said.

The business travel industry supports 22,000 jobs in New Zealand.

When the MEETINGS event was last held pre-Covid, $62 million worth of deals were signed over those two days.

Organisers are optimistic that despite there being fewer exhibitors and fewer visitors, that number may come close to being reached again.

But of course there are still some huge challenges facing this industry.

"Whenever we go into a lockdown, we always see that business just fall away," Business Events Industry Aotearoa CEO Lisa Hopkins said.

While Auckland has 91 events scheduled between now and 2028, the uncertainty around Covid and travel remains the biggest challenge.

"This is probably, in my view, going to be the longest burn in terms of full recovery, our ability to bring international visitors in is critical," Armitage said.

And with climate change adding to people's resistance to travel, there are new ideas to cluster conferences around a theme or to host hybrid events.

"A hybrid event is where you have the main part taking place in a set location … but you have people who are also taking part in it from offshore virtually," Armitage explained.