Support from Tourism New Zealand and its Conference Assistance Programme persuaded AHISA (The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia) to hold its first ever conference outside of Australia.
The programme was excellent. TNZ really listened to what I said when they devised the itinerary; there was no wasted effort and everything I went to see was very relevant. They offered great suggestions in terms of activities and venues.
Anne Veenstra, Business Manager, AHISA
Offshore on the radar
AHISA (The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia) had no plans to take its biennial conference overseas. AHISA’s Business Manager Anne Veenstra says: “We didn’t really have it on our radar but we were approached by Tourism New Zealand, which sent out a survey asking whether we would be interested in hosting a conference in New Zealand. I had filled it in and was allocated a place on a familiarisation visit but opted not to take it until I had spoken to the Board and had confirmation that taking the event offshore was something they were interested in.
“The next thing TNZ did was prepare more information. We were accepted under TNZ’s Conference Assistance Programme for bid support; without this opportunity we would not have been in a position to put a proposal to our Board. A feasibility proposal was prepared, a PCO in New Zealand did a budget for us and TNZ produced a very glossy brochure tailored specifically to us which included general costings based on the information I had given. We decided to consider both Auckland and Queenstown and we received welcome letters from the Mayors of both cities. TNZ printed hard copies of the brochure for the next Board meeting. It was quite spectacular. The Board was delighted with the presentation and said, in principle, yes, we will go to New Zealand.”
Bringing benefits - and no downsides
Veenstra notes: “The main benefit of taking the event outside Australia was to change it up a little bit, take the membership somewhere different. There is an excitement in going offshore and there didn’t seem to be any downsides to taking the event to New Zealand. The cost was fairly similar to Australia, and in fact the accommodation was probably a little bit cheaper. Most of our members are based on Australia’s eastern seaboard and our next meeting was due to be in Western Australia. In many cases it was easier to get to New Zealand than Western Australia and often cheaper, with less flying time.
“Additionally, we have a New Zealand counterpart, ISNZ (Independent Schools of New Zealand). They have 30-35 members, half a dozen of which are also AHISA members. They have agreed they will not hold a conference in 2017 and we will hold a joint conference. We are trying to build our relationships with our counterparts over there and this was a really good opportunity to work together cooperatively.”
“Because we fell under the Conference Assistance Programme we could do site inspections of both Auckland and Queenstown with no cost to the association,” Veenstra continues. “The programme was excellent. TNZ really listened to what I said when they devised the itinerary; there was no wasted effort and everything I went to see was very relevant. They offered great suggestions in terms of activities and venues.
“When I was in Auckland I would have been very happy to hold the conference there - it had great facilities and the off-site options were excellent. Logistically Auckland is possibly an easier option, with more choice in terms of venues and accommodation, but Queenstown has just got that ‘wow factor’ and such spectacular scenery. There was no hesitation from the Board and we decided to host the conference in Queenstown in 2017. A lot of people have indicated they want to extend their time when they come to New Zealand, and we will run a partner programme, too. We plan to have a final gala dinner at the Skyline restaurant up Bob’s Peak, and we will look at incorporating things like Arrowtown, vineyards, the steamship Earnslaw, golf. Queenstown offers great options.”
“Tourism New Zealand has been phenomenal - you couldn't fault them from day one,” Veenstra says. “Having a TNZ Business Events Manager in Australia - Helen Bambry - is a major asset. She has maintained regular contact and just been superb. She escorted me on the site inspections and was so professional and knowledgeable about her product. At the conference handover at our event in Sydney she is also assisting - TNZ has funded a short cultural performance, while Queenstown Convention Bureau is providing a video on Queenstown to show to get people excited and fired up. We also hope to have a sponsorship exhibition component at the conference, and TNZ has offered to work with other government agencies to put us in touch with New Zealand businesses to see if they want to become involved.
“I couldn't say anything bad about TNZ at all, and the Conference Assistance Programme is excellent,” Veenstra concludes. “If you were doing it on your own you would have to get approval from the Board to fund all the trips, then have to tap into the local channels yourself. To have TNZ do that for you reduces the amount of time you have to spend on organisation and for a not-for-profit like us it really helped that we didn't have to put our hand in our pocket to get it off the ground. Tourism New Zealand made it really easy. The support we have received has just been phenomenal.”