The international iMedia Summit series was last year named by Forbes as the number one ‘must attend’ international marketing conference for brand leaders. New Zealand welcomed its first ever iMedia Brand Summit to Nelson in June 2015.

Christopher Edwards, iMedia content and programme director, Australia and New Zealand, said bringing the summit to New Zealand made good sense. “The World Bank has twice named New Zealand as the best country in which to do business. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranks New Zealand second in the world for innovation (ahead of the US and Australia).”

More than 50 leading New Zealand brand marketers were invited to the event and hosted by 49 international sponsors from some of the world’s top global brands. They engaged in formal and informal networking sessions, heard keynote presentations, and learned about the latest international marketing technologies and digital strategies.

Nelson, at the top of the South Island, is known for its natural produce, especially its seafood and wine. Three national parks, in particular the easily accessible Abel Tasman National Park, allow for sailing, kayaking and walking on golden beaches, while the ‘Great Taste Cycle Trail’, quality and quirky art trails, cafés, wineries and craft beer breweries offer huge opportunity for off-site, partner and pre and post-event activities.

It is also highly accessible - there are several daily flights from all major New Zealand airports and Nelson Airport is a 10-minute drive from the city.

Organiser Jan Barthelemy of DMG Events said: “We appreciate that Nelson hasn’t traditionally been an automatic conference destination choice. However, we really liked the proximity to Auckland (a 75-minute flight), also the fact there is so much to enjoy in Nelson in terms of food, wine and activities. The iMedia Summit is designed to create a collegial environment, half the time spent at this event is networking, so it’s very important to have a setting that is relaxing and has minimal distraction. Nelson ticked all those boxes and, in the event, met all our expectations.”

The summit was hosted by the city’s major conference property, Rutherford Hotel Nelson, a Heritage Hotel. Delegates stayed on site in the four-star-plus accommodation, while the recently refurbished conference facilities easily met the needs of the official programme, which encompassed plenary sessions with international and local keynote speakers, interactive breakfast round table sessions, ‘Business Connect’ meetings, breakout sessions and networking lunches.

Barthelemy noted: “The Rutherford conference facility is nice and modern and the WiFi surprisingly robust compared to other hotels where we have run events.”

He added that the quality of the food and wine was one of Nelson’s biggest selling points. “We were spoiled when we were there. I also think the hotel catering was far better than what we have experienced at many hotels.”

Particular highlights were the Taste of Nelson six-course degustation dinner, a celebration of local produce and the region’s award-winning wines; and a barbecue lunch featuring local seafood, prepared by chefs from the hotel’s signature Japanese restaurant.

Delegates were also treated to an afternoon ‘Mahana Wine and Art Experience’ at Mahana Estate, a scenic 20-minute drive from the city through vineyards and orchards. The theme, addressed by owner, art collector and philanthropist, Glenn Schaeffer, was ‘Let’s make beauty where it didn’t exist before’. Highlights included a private tour of Schaeffer’s outstanding contemporary art collection, a tutored wine tasting of Mahana’s award-winning wines, and a tour of the gravity-fed winery. The session finished with a networking opportunity, with guests enjoying wine and canapés created by Mahana chef Jason Innes, as the sun set over Tasman Bay.

International delegates, many of them first-time visitors to New Zealand, were impressed by the high standard of facilities and food and wine on offer in this small regional city. They also expressed delight with the off-site art and wine experience, the warm winter temperatures, and with the outstanding scenery of beaches, forests and mountains.

Angela Buglass, chief executive of Trilogy International, said the Mahana Wine and Art Experience was “world-class” in terms of service, experience, the art and the gallery.

Former London, now Sydney-based Simon Smith-Wright, of global video games company Electronic Arts, took the opportunity for a pre-summit visit, bringing his family with him. “We went walking in Abel Tasman National Park, surrounded by water and bush, it was remarkable. We also ventured out to local restaurants, Hopgoods and Fords; they were both amazingly good.

“My colleagues couldn’t believe I was heading to New Zealand in winter, not even for skiing but for a conference,” he added. “Yet it’s been so sunny and clear and warm. I hope the conference stays here next year.”