By Geoff Taylor, Waikato Business News
Tourism and business leaders’ urgent plea for Hamilton.Hamilton doesn’t just need one 4 or 4.5-star hotel desperately – it needs two.
That’s the plea from tourism and business leaders who say the city which is desperate to keep Claudelands Event Centre busy, is missing out on large scale conferences because it just doesn’t have enough beds.
And Dallas Fisher, the man behind the recent highly successful New Zealand Sevens at Waikato Stadium is calling on the Hamilton City Council to put skin in the game and fast-track hotel development as it did with the creation of the Tainui Novotel in the 1990s.
Hamilton Mayor Andrew King is resisting the call, saying it’s not for ratepayers to “tilt the floor” and benefit commercial operators.
Hamilton & Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson says Waikato is in a very exciting position right now because the region is in a growth phase.
“However, one of the biggest challenges in our region is the shortage of large-scale commercial accommodation. We need to increase the number of properties across our region to meet current demand from conference organisers, travel trade and our growing ‘free and independent’ traveller market.
“Right now, Hamilton requires at least two hotels of a 4 – 4.5-star rating or higher.”
The city’s only 4-star hotel at present is the Tainui Novotel whose owners are spending $13 million on adding an extra 40 rooms later this year.
Jason says every conference Hamilton and Waikato secures is significant for the region, regardless of the sector or size.
“Conference delegates are also influenced to return for a future holiday based on their positive Waikato experiences.”
“A delegate attending a business event is worth twice as much as a leisure traveller to the region, with an average delegate per night value of $350 for international delegates and $509 for domestic delegates.
“However currently in Hamilton, our current conference threshold is up to 500 people before the city struggles to meet quality commercial accommodation requirements.
“We are missing out on lucrative multi-day association conferences, even though we have the best conference and exhibition centre in New Zealand at Claudelands which is capable of holding large multi-day conferences for more than 1500 people and the Claudelands Arena can seat 6000 delegates for a plenary session.”
And his plea has been echoed by 37 South and Montana Catering director Dallas Fisher who believes the council needs to step in and kick start another hotel development much like for the Novotel Tainui Hotel in the 1990s.
“The city desperately needs a 4-star hotel, probably two. Primarily we are missing out on conferences because we just can’t host them. At the moment we are turning them away because they haven’t got a place to stay.”
“I think it’s one of the key things for the city. I would like to see two because I think we can fill them.”
Dallas says New Zealand is “pretty full generally” so new hotels are required everywhere.
“People are choosing the sexy places like Queenstown and Auckland to build hotels and it’s quite easy for Hamilton to slip down the list.” He believes the council needs to intervene.
“Because we are coming from behind the eight ball in terms of market perception we need to put a deal in place that they can’t refuse.”
Mayor King acknowledges the need for two hotels “4 star or better”.
“It’s just a matter of who moves first. If one of them gets away it’s possible that might activate one or even another two. My own personal view as mayor is that I don’t want to tilt the floor. I don’t want to give away ratepayer money for something the private sector is going to benefit from. I don’t believe ratepayers should put money into a hotel to benefit commercial operators.”
Figures provided by council general manager, venues, tourism and major events, Sean Murray show Hamilton is very low on beds compared with other nearby potential conference destinations.
“A hotel report in 2016 suggests that Hamilton has only 2000 rooms provided by commercial accommodation providers compared with Tauranga, 3000 and Rotorua close to 7000,” says Sean. “And most of our hotel rooms sit in the 3-star category.”
Council strategic property unit manager Nicolas Wells says four publicly owned sites have been promoted in recent years – a site behind ArtsPost on Victoria Street, the Sonning car park, land opposite Claudelands Events Centre and the Victoria On the River site which is now a public park.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the ArtsPost site in particular but the challenge is actually getting a deal across the line. One issue is that typically you need three parties to come to the table, an investor, a developer and an operator – those are typically not the same entity. Sometimes you get groups that do all three but they are few and far between.”
Waikato Business News understands a company with the wherewithal to invest, develop and operate a 4-star hotel has been interested in the council’s available site behind ArtsPost for some time and has gone as far as engaging consultants to do figures on viability.
A Singapore-based construction development company has also expressed interest.
There are other developments on the horizon. The proposed regional theatre at the old Hamilton Hotel site on Victoria is expected to accommodate a boutique hotel. Meanwhile, Foster Construction commercial manager Leonard Gardner confirms that a Fosters-owned property on the old Les Mills gym site presently being used for car parking has consent for a 4-star hotel. He says Fosters is still searching for an appropriate operator.
SKYCITY Hamilton previously proposed a $35 million hotel be added to its casino but that development is on hold.
Nicolas Wells believes it is just a matter of time.
“I’m confident that someone is going to build a hotel in the not too distant future, I think there is the pressure and the opportunity and there has been a lot of interest. I think we are close, the challenge is just in bringing the three parties together and getting a deal off the ground.”
Sean Murray is also optimistic.
“While Hamilton clearly lags behind in its hotel inventory right now the city is on the cusp of a number of new developments likely to come to fruition. Within five-years we will have two new 4-5 star hotels.”