Businesses join Cup roadshow

Source: Business Day -WILLIAM MACE

When the Reserve Bank announced earlier this year that the New Zealand economy would benefit by $700 million across the six-week period of the Rugby World Cup tournament, the prediction was treated with derision by economists and sports commentators alike.

In the same speech Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard said his “expert team of forecasters” had also predicted an All Blacks victory over Australia in the World Cup final by 23.9 points to 15.6.

Whether the bank’s economic boffins believe in sporting superstition or not, it would’ve been remiss for Dr Bollard not to give his mahogany lectern a knuckle tap as he proposed the outcome, irrespective of the sincerity behind his prediction.

Most would agree that there’s about as much chance of guessing how Cup holders South Africa will perform as there is producing an accurate figure of economic benefit to New Zealand from the event.

What is certain is that it will take a significant effort from New Zealand companies to absorb any benefit, given the range of pessimistic predictions and the intellectual property protections afforded to global corporate sponsors which make leveraging the tournament a legal nightmare for small to medium-sized business owners.

With just 110 days until kick-off the question is whether it’s time to stop preoccupying ourselves with guessing games on the numbers and instead seize the opportunity by jumping on the world cup hosting bandwagon.

If the answer’s yes then thankfully there’s already a bandwagon rolling: “The Real NZ Showcase” is a programme of nationwide events to entertain and educate RWC visitors while simultaneously encouraging business connections.

The schedule was launched this month by the Economic Development Ministry’s “NZ2011” office, around the same time as fresh questions were being raised about the costs-versus-benefits case for the Cup.

The festival comprises more than 150 events organised by 16 industry sectors including our traditional areas of strength – marine, food and beverage, wine, aviation, agribusiness, film, science and fashion.

It’s essentially a platform designed to help Kiwis play host to the 85,000 rugby-loving tourists expected to set down here before, during and after the Cup, but with a wider potential business pay-off lurking beneath that smile and handshake.

According to the festival’s prospectus Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf “Cloud” structure will play a central role in providing the silver lining – a 6000-person capacity tent acting as both a “party central” for local fans and a Kiwi trade show hub for foreigners.

But Auckland is already in line for more than its share of cup payback. It’s in the regions where business people are being urged to “give ’em a taste of Kiwi”.

DEBORAH JACK, manager for the agribusiness sector’s nationwide showcase, has been finalising details of several exclusive small-scale tours through New Zealand’s world-leading agricultural enterprises for visitors during the World Cup period.

She has just signed up Country Calendar producer of 35 years Frank Torley to host a tour of Manawatu’s rural gems – the Feilding saleyards, ANZCO’s Rangitikei meat processing facility, various AgResearch sites, as well as Massey University’s research farms and Riddet Institute of food technology. And of course the obligatory cocktail party.

The tour is set down for two days between Palmerston North’s hosting of two Pool B RWC games: Georgia v Romania on September 28 and Georgia v Argentina on October 2.

It’s also worth noting that particular week will see English rugby fans travelling between Dunedin and Auckland, and French fans between Auckland and Wellington with the Manawatu ideally placed to “intercept” a few interested punters.

But only if they’re genuinely interested in doing business, says Ms Jack.

“Our mantra has been that we’re better off having a small targeted specific group who are seriously interested in business than a busload of people who’re just rubber-necking and just think it would be a cool thing to do.”

Ms Jack is running tours in four other rural regions as well as a more traditional industry expo in Hamilton.

“It is really difficult because it’s a `chicken and egg’ situation in the sense that we’re creating these events but to be honest we don’t have a huge idea right now about who’s coming.

“If for some reason we don’t get any interest at all, two or three weeks out we’ll cancel it because I’m not interested in companies standing on show. There’s no point in them being there if there’s no one there to see them.”

But Ms Jack says she will be “gobsmacked” if that happens. She’s confident in the promotional work that NZ2011 and Rugby NZ 2011 have been doing on behalf of all the Real festival’s participants, and says the estimate of 85,000 visitors is conservative given that it doesn’t account for teams, media, VIPs and corporate hosting tickets purchased within New Zealand. She already has interest from a 40-strong group of “high net worth, big decision makers” from the French agricultural sector who are coming as much for business as they are for rugby.

NZBIO development manager Peter Bradley is also expecting billions of dollars worth of pharmaceutical buying power to attend his Clinical Trial Showcase on September 21 – sandwiched between two marquee pool games at Eden Park.

Five of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies – several based in Britain and France – have expressed interest in the showcase which will put them in the same room as New Zealand’s top clinical talent.

“It’s all about the clinicians – they’re the innovators and they’re the people the companies want to talk to. The event will be quite small but very high level. The guys that are in the room will literally control billions of dollars worth of research money.”

OTHER sectors are taking a large scale approach and, in Aviation Industry Cluster general manager Shaun Mitchell’s case, a significant “leap of faith” based on the perceived peripheral benefits of the Cup.

The Cluster – a membership group of 50 aviation-centric businesses and aircraft design and manufacture companies which sprouted from the Waikato three years ago – is holding an aviation air-show and business showcase called `Flair 2011′ just north of Hamilton over three days from October 13 to 15.

The World Cup semi-finals take place just an hour and a half up the road in Auckland on October 15 and 16.

“It’s a bit of a leap of faith,” says Mr Mitchell, admitting that he’s not sure exactly yet what it will cost to stage the event but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“An event like this is something we’ve always wanted to do but realistically we thought the industry might be two or three years away from being able to support it.

“With the support from NZ2011 and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise around the Rugby World Cup it’s giving us the ability to go in a few years earlier and try and put our stamp on it.”

Unlike Ms Jack’s agribusiness tours, Flair will rely heavily on patronage from local communities and on Kiwi businesses parting with their cash to participate.

Mr Mitchell has attracted the Martin Jetpack’s developers to the show as a Kiwi drawcard with an international reputation, while he’s promoted the event at Australia’s Avalon airshow, and will soon do the same at the USA’s world-renowned AirVenture Oshkosh show.

He says Flair 2011 is as much about publicising aviation’s estimated $9.7bn revenue contribution to New Zealand’s economy as trying to expand the estimated $3.8bn annually earned from export activities.

But there’s no doubt wine will be a huge priority for foreign visitors come spring, and with no less than eight single day and multi-day wine festivals around the country from September 25 until October 23 their thirsts should be well catered for.

New Zealand Fashion Week has been brought forward this year to avoid a clash with the cup, but on top of her busy schedule founder Pieter Stewart has been recruited to help organise a travelling fashion and textiles showcase.

A plan to get designers selling directly to deep-pocketed tourists from suites in hot-spot hotels will help designers who may not have outlets in a particular area, while catering for female cup visitors who perhaps aren’t as hell bent on rugby as their male counterparts.

And the list goes on: Fifteen food festivals, nine thoroughbred race meetings, a waste minimisation conference in Rotorua, Auckland International Boat Show, the Canterbury Software Summit and the Real NZ Music Tour will all be relying on a captive market in some way or another despite their differing business models.

NZ2011’S director Leon Grice believes the impetus for the “New Zealand Inc” approach to hosting the Rugby World Cup kicked into gear in January.

The latest MYOB Business Monitor report shows only 23 per cent of businesses expect the economy to recover in the next 12 months, and just 5 per cent expect to see it do so in the next six months.

“So if we could see one thing in this election year that would give businesses a welcome shot in the arm, it’s not the Rugby World Cup,” says general manager Julian Smith.

But Mr Grice says participation does not necessarily cost a lot.

“We’ve really focused on a particular message for sectors, whether they’re exporters or not, that here are some programmes to participate in which don’t cost a lot of money,” he says.

“We’re saying don’t overinvest because this isn’t necessarily the thing that will turn your business around, but don’t miss out.”

He advocates at least joining the Business Club, so that businesses, small or big, have a way of connecting with visitors who are actively seeking Kiwi experiences en route to business engagement.

Already 2500 Kiwi businesses have registered with 10 additional hosted events also logged on the site, and overseas registrations amounted to 1900 people, Mr Grice says.

Last year’s Fifa Football World Cup in South Africa had pushed visitor numbers up from eight million to nine million a year on the back of an improved perception of the country as safe, friendly and welcoming, he says.

“That’s had an enormous impact for South Africa in positioning them to be the place to go for sub-Saharan economic development and it’s enormous in terms of attracting European tourists.”

Here, Mr Grice believes the cup will spark a richer engagement where the world sees New Zealand as “more than sauvignon blanc and roast lamb”. Though there is nothing wrong with either of those products, he hastens to add. “But it’s also home to Lanzatech, for example.”

How do you measure that engagement? “I think at the end of the day a consensus forms on whether you’ve achieved that or not.”

While that consensus is unlikely to be as black and white as the result after 80 minutes of rugby, the real Kiwi reaction to the tournament is likely to hinge equally on regaining the silverware as it does on retaining the economic spoils.

– BusinessDay