Hall upgrade sparks conference business influx

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Queenstown’s Memorial Hall – still in the middle of an upgrade – is attracting a conference-booking bonanza to the Wakatipu. 

Lakes Leisure events and venues boss JD Marrable, who oversees hall management, confirms promised improvements are proving a major drawcard for conferences, not the hall’s traditional use. 

A 324-strong group of accountants from Australia have booked it for a five-day conference in March, weeks after the multi-million dollar upgrade ends. They’re also bringing partners and have booked two other venues for gala events. 

Several other conference and incentive group bookings at the hall are pencilled in for August and September for three-day affairs, while a five-dayer has been booked for November, Marrable confirms. 

“It’s definitely filling a gap for those mid-sized conferences that want to be in town and have flexibility about where they stay. 

“There’s no way they’d have even looked at Memorial Hall if not for the facilities and quality we can offer with the upgrade,” he says. 

On top of conferences, the popular Wellington Ukulele Orchestra is returning for a hall concert on March 7, a week after the hall is finished. 

“We would not have got them back without the upgrade, after the last time they played in the hall,” Marrable says. 

Marrable adds the new business is a result of enquiries – Lakes Leisure, a Queenstown Lakes District Council controlled company, has not been actively marketing the hall yet. 

“The level of interest and of solid bookings is pretty impressive, considering we’ve just been showing people concept drawings.” 

The $3.1 million upgrade includes improved sound and lighting systems, a retractable wall for flexibility, plus a redeveloped stage, seating area and foyer. 

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd says the improved hall is a welcome addition to conference infrastructure. 

“It adds capacity and event facilities not available in other venues. We’re sure it’ll suit a wide range of potential users.” 

Budd says it’ll be added to all of DQ’s conference and incentive marketing activity, pushing it to local and international clients. 

Queenstown councillor Cath Gilmour, who chairs project cheerleader the Queenstown Memorial Hall Trust, says she’s thrilled expectations of greater community, cultural and commercial use are being proven true. 

“The upgrade is going to enrich our community in so many ways.” 

Bookings have also been made for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Royal New Zealand Ballet and traditional events like the Michael Hill International Violin Competition and local theatre shows. 

The upgrade, being handled by Arrow International, stops for three weeks come January to allow the annual National Rugby Sevens tournament to go ahead at the adjacent Recreation Ground. 

Arrow expects to complete the project by the end of February.