A global hotel giant is warning of a convention centre glut in New Zealand - but Queenstown’s mayor is undeterred.
Host Hotels & Resorts vice-president Christopher Hur warns building four convention centres - in Queenstown,
Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington - over the next few years is risky.
“If you build too many of them at the same period of time, it just feels like you’re cannibalising the effect on each other,” Hur told Radio New Zealand recently.
Singapore-based Hur worries about “a potential over-supply of convention product in what’s still a relatively further away destination”.
Host owns the freehold of 130 hotels in 16 countries, including seven in NZ.
Queenstown’s Novotel Lakeside, operated by Accor, is part of Host’s Kiwi portfolio.
Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden casts doubt on Hur’s warning of “cannabilising”.
“It can only be said with certainty that [Auckland’s] National Convention Centre will be completed,” she maintains.
Van Uden believes there are doubts over whether - and when - Wellington and Christchurch centres will proceed.
In any case, she says, council plans for a $60 million smaller-scale centre in Queenstown’s CBD aim at “the sweet spot, the most common size for conventions in this part of the world”.
Queenstown’s other in-built advantage is its magnetic effect on foreigners.
Van Uden: “As the prime minister noted in his speech last Friday, Queenstown is the only place in NZ which international visitors travel to as a unique destination.”
Yet three local hotel identities inject notes of caution into the interminable convention centre debate.
“We mustn’t let outsiders get us distracted - we need to stay the course,” local hotel industry spokesperson and
Goldridge manager Penny Clark says.
“The town needs a convention centre for all the reasons [previously] discussed [but] bureaucracy has taken over and we’ve lost our way.”
The centre should be enshrined in the council’s new 10-year plan, Clark contends.
“Even if we can’t start building tomorrow, we mustn’t lose it from the plan.”
Clark also wants to see new funding strategies - and a fresh design.
“The current design doesn’t tick the right boxes and causes dissent,” she says.
Graham Wilkinson, freehold owner of Queenstown’s Sofitel and St Moritz hotels, is both pro and anti about the council’s plans.
“You’d be hard pressed to find anyone against a convention centre,” Wilkinson says - “but we still haven’t seen what it’s going to cost and who’ll pay for it.
“I’m in favour but there needs to be a truckload of work to ensure it doesn’t end up being a dog’s breakfast.”
An almost 100 per cent blow-out to $195,000 on footpath work outside Shotover Street’s Fergburger proves “cost control at the council is hardly robust”, Wilkinson says.
Jim Moore runs Queenstown’s biggest hotel, the Novotel Lakeside owned by Host.
Moore wants progress on a convention centre - but gently does it, he says.
“We and the Chamber of Commerce have said to the council - look, it’s not a convention centre at any cost.”
The council needs to ensure viability, Moore says.
Like Clark, he wants the centre enshrined in the 10-year plan - “to really investigate whether alternative funding is available and to keep the project on the go”.