Well before lockdown, one after another of Queenstown’s most cherished events got wiped from the calendar, while countless weddings and conferences were either postponed or cancelled. PHILIP CHANDLER checks he state of the current industry with four of its practitioners
The events industry was one of the first affected by the Covid-19 crisis, and will be one of the last to come out of it.
“A lot of us are quoting exactly that,” former Queenstown Winter Festival director Rae Baker says.
Baker, who’s still in the industry, notes Queenstown’s missing out not only on the huge economic benefits brought by events like WinterFest and Luma, but also the community spirit they engender.
She says the event drought’s also affecting the livelihoods of dozens and dozens of locals.
“There’s quite a large amount of suppliers that will be affected, it stretches quite far and wide.”
An early victim was local company Dinamics Destination Management, which went into liquidation in March when its pipeline of about 30 events disappeared overnight.
It owes unsecured creditors about $200,000.
Event industry personnel affected include Mike Brettell, whose Visual Events company supplies lighting, sound and audio to conferences and weddings.
He was about to enjoy his best two months’ business when the lockdown happened, including four “really big conferences – I bought a truck this year, based on those”.
He’s leasing two warehouses full of gear doing nothing right now – “I’d hate to think how the big boys are doing”.
Brettell thinks it could be a year before the conference market comes back.
“Everybody’s Zooming, and that’s become the new norm.”
Weddings had also become big business, too “they went from $20,000 gigs to $200,000, but that’s the international market”.
He’s confident his domestic wedding market will pick up later this year, “but there’s not as much money in that”.
The other problem, he says, is people in the events industry who’d given him work were losing their jobs, “so I’ll have to start again”.
Samantha Stirling, who co-owns local event management company Ripple Experience Management Company, is surprised how many positive domestic and Australian conference leads they’ve had since lockdown started, the latter “of course reluctant to confirm until they know about the borders opening”.
For the first time in a long time, conference proposals she’s making in Australia aren’t facing competition from other international destinations.
“And because New Zealand has handled this pandemic in such a great way, it makes us look like a really good destination to travel to.”
Conferencing’s also a good way for companies to rebuild their culture after the crisis, she says.
Against that, Stirling assumes a lot of companies won’t have the money to run conferences or will be worried how people perceive them spending up on an event.
There might also be, post-bushfires, post-pandemic, pressure for Aussie companies to conference at home.
Still, she’s positive about the future for conferences, “but I just don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like”.
Stirling, whose company also manages local venue NZ High Country, which predominantly hosts weddings, says there’s good interest in people having weddings here in place of overseas destinations they now can’t get to.
“The positive about when the lockdown happened is it was at the end of the busy wedding season.”
Someone also grateful for that timing is local sports event organiser Adrian Bailey, whose events mostly run over summer.
His last local event was the inaugural Walter Peak High Country Run on February 29.
Though his business had taken a hit, he’s most missed the camaraderie and atmosphere his events generate, he says.
His first post-Covid-19 event will be Queenstown’s Peak to Peak multisport race on September 12.
“There’s no question sponsorship might tighten up in the short term, which is understandable, however I’d like to think local councils/tourism will support event promotion in the region, encouraging greater domestic travel around NZ.”