|Tourism is a vital part of the economy in New Zealand, and is currently the country’s second biggest export earner (Ministry of Economic Development, 2011). The Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) sector is an important aspect of the tourism industry within the Auckland region, New Zealand’s largest city. This thesis investigates the MICE sector in Auckland, an area that had largely been unexplored in the academic literature. MICE visitors are acknowledged as highly beneficial for destinations. They are commonly viewed as being high yield visitors, with minimal negative environmental and socio-cultural impact (Dwyer, 2002; Lau, Milne, & Johnston, 2005; Weber & Ladkin, 2004). They can also assist in overcoming issues related to seasonality within destinations (Rogers, 2003). Currently the proportion of visitors to the region attending MICE events is quite small at around 2% (Tourism strategy Group - Ministry of Economic Development, 2011a, 2011b).
At the commencement of this research two important documents, the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015 and the Auckland Regional Economic Development Plan, both identified further development of the MICE sector in Auckland as being desirable (Auckland Regional Council, 2006b; Tourism Strategy Group, 2003; Zahra, 2011). At that time there was limited information regarding the sector, its structure and composition, the trends and issues that were affecting it, or regarding patterns of MICE visitation. Similarly no strategic forward planning had been conducted for the sector. The body responsible for tourism promotion and destination management at the time, Tourism Auckland, were aware of this lack of information, and during initial consultations with the researcher also expressed a desire to develop a strategy specifically for the MICE sector moving forward. Accordingly the initial goal for this research was to provide Tourism Auckland with a platform of information on which they could base the development of a strategy document.
Over the duration of this research investigation the Auckland region has been through a considerable change in governance structures. Where there had previously been seven city and district councils (Auckland Regional Council, 2007b), along with one regional council, there is now one unitary body, the Auckland Council (Auckland City Council, 2010). With this change in governance structure has been the abolition of Tourism Auckland and the formation of a new council controlled organisation responsible for tourism in the region, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) (Auckland Council, 2011b). While this has certainly impacted on the initial goal of this research to provide Tourism Auckland with a platform on which to base a strategic planning process, it has not negated the value of this research. This research provides a solid case study of the MICE sector in Auckland, and makes a compelling case for why ATEED, should implement a strategic planning process specifically for the MICE sector in the region.
Adopting a pragmatic approach to this thesis, the first steps in this investigation were to determine what the research needed to discover in order to provide the desired platform of information for Tourism Auckland. Therefore the literature review was focussed on three main aspects: 1) the specific context of the MICE sector in the Auckland region; 2) previous studies of the MICE sector in other regions; and 3) concepts of sustainability and strategic planning and how they are applied in a New Zealand context. The result of this was the development of framework for the collection of data from various sources, which could then be used to develop a situational analysis of the MICE sector in Auckland. This framework is detailed in the methodology chapter of this thesis.
This thesis employed a mixed methods approach and data was collected in two phases. A combination of questionnaire surveys and interviews were used in the initial data collection phase. Data were sought from five separate populations (delegates, exhibitors, event organisers, suppliers and venues) representing both the supply and demand sides of the sector, with questionnaires being employed for the demand side and interviews for the supply side. Analysis of interview data was conducted with the aid of three software applications; Catpac, Leximancer and Atlas Ti, while the data analysis for the questionnaires used Statistica. The findings from these analyses were triangulated to conduct an initial situational analysis for the sector. In the second phase of the data collection the Delphi technique was employed, to confirm the factors identified in the initial situational analysis, and to assess levels of and build consensus around these factors. The Delphi panel comprised 13 first phase participants, representing a variety of venues and suppliers from around the region. This Delphi process was successful in achieving consensus on most of the factors previously identified, and therefore allowed for a revised situational analysis to be developed.
Although the Delphi process was successful in achieving consensus in most areas, there was one area where consensus was not achieved and this was in relation to the desired future position of the Auckland MICE sector. This research found that there is in fact, dichotomous views regarding the future of MICE in the region. Discussion of this key finding and its implications forms the first part of the final chapter of this thesis. The following parts of the chapter explore the key findings resulting from the situational analysis. This investigation concluded that the region does have some considerable strengths that can be capitalised upon to increase the number of MICE visitors to the region, these being the chiefly that the region offers a diverse range of natural and built environments, a good selection of venues and supporting suppliers, and that is well connected via the Auckland International Airport and the road network within New Zealand. However, despite these strengths, the region also has some weaknesses that need to be addressed if the sector is to reach its full potential. These weaknesses stem from a lack of overall strategic leadership for the sector, and this has manifested as intense competition between individual businesses in the region, very little collaboration between stakeholders and a lack of a unified and compelling marketing message being used to attract MICE business to the region. Overcoming these weaknesses presents a significant challenge for the region, but by the same token also provide the sector with a significant opportunity to increase the number of MICE events held in the region. Other challenges the sector faces are the result of the geographic distance of Auckland from the large MICE generating markets of Europe and North America, and the global economic climate following the economic crisis of 2008.
In order to overcome these challenges a planned strategic approach will be necessary. The final section of this thesis proposes a framework that ATEED could use to implement strategic planning for the sector. This is then followed by a series of recommendations to ATEED regarding the above mentioned findings, and the importance of them taking a leadership role for the sector and ensuring stakeholder involvement in any strategic planning process. This thesis concludes by stressing the importance of developing a strategic plan for ensuring the Auckland MICE sector achieves its full potential.