Each year at around this time, New Zealand hosts an international travel show called TRENZ, which I believe is supposed to stand for “Tourism REndezvous New Zealand” (on a side note, I really hate contrived acronyms like this, and have thus formed a group called “Get Real, UnMeaningful Phrases are Yesterday”). The event provides an opportunity for people who are in the travel industry overseas to meet with the people who provide travel experiences in NZ so that they can send their guests to visit them when in NZ on holiday. The Luxury Lodge Association of NZ, of which we are a member, always attends, and for the past two years I bought a day pass to have a chance to introduce myself, and the lodge, to these important agents. This year, as a member of the association’s executive, I offered to represent the group as a whole at the event, and spend the whole three days at our booth.
TRENZ operates a lot like a speed dating service: prior to the event you set up your profile and then there’s a sort of electronic matching that happens, where you pick out the buyers you want to meet with, and the buyers pick out which exhibitors they want to meet, and whenever your interests intersect, you get an appointment. There are something like 50 possible meetings over the three days, each lasting 15 minutes, with additional time for meetings over tea breaks, lunches, evening events, and activities. In the end, we had meetings scheduled for all but three possible slots, which is considered exceptionally good, and the people we were meeting with came from all over the world, including the US, Europe, Asia and South America. I had a colleague with me for the three days, plus we had one more lodge owner there as a day-delegate each day, so that we could share the responsibility for going through the PowerPoint and talking about the lodges, which really does get pretty tiring after the first dozen or so iterations. Some of the meetings were with people who know us all pretty well, so those were focused more on introducing new members, acquainting them with new ideas for itineraries, and emphasising that the lodges are not all stratospherically expensive. For meetings with people who weren’t familiar with the lodges, of course we spent more time talking about who the members are, where they’re located, etc.
TRENZ moves around the country from year to year, and for the last two years it was held in Queenstown, just a short drive from us in Oamaru. This year it was held in Auckland, so I left on Saturday and flew up then, set up the stand on Sunday, and then had my meetings Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and flew back on Thursday. J2 meantime, stayed at home with the dogs and took care of some work around the house.
It would appear that the diet of the international travel agent consists primarily of finger food and liquor, judging by the food that was provided at TRENZ for most events. On Sunday evening they held a welcome function that featured utterly unmemorable food, and lots of wine, along with a traditional Maori welcome. There has been some controversy in NZ lately over a Danish parliamentarian’s blog about the savage nature of the traditional Maori welcome ceremony that greeted her during a visit to NZ earlier in the year. As a right-wing, anti-immigrant politician, it is perhaps no surprise that she found the Maori welcome to be a bit off-putting, since it features half-naked men and grass-skirt clad women sticking out their tongues and brandishing weapons while they shout menacingly and in unison. However, I see nothing wrong with it, though I think that the welcome ceremony may go some way to explain why the Maori culture survived colonisation while aborigine culture in Australia largely got wiped out.
After the hoopla of the opening it was down to business the next morning, with meeting after meeting after meeting to get through. Our stand was in the luxury section of the show, with a few of our fellow lodges’ own stands around us (for those in the know of the NZ lodge biz, those were Eagles Nest Lodge, Fiordland Lodge and Huka Lodge), as well as the stand of Boutique Hotels & Lodges (who markets us) and Green Journeys (another group we belong to), so there were a lot of people around who were able to remind people of our existence. Furthermore, in another section of the show was the stand of our local tourism promotion group, who also had us in their presentation. Best of all, when I visited the stand of Qualmark, the national travel assessment organisation, I was very happy to see that they had a poster on their wall that included a photo of our lodge!
James at the NZLA Stand
Since I am not as familiar with Auckland as with other parts of NZ, I was happy that, as a delegate, I was allowed a chance to become familiar with the city by taking part in an activity organised for TRENZ attendees on Tuesday afternoon. There was a huge number of activities to choose from, from jumping off the Sky Tower, to sailing on an America’s Cup sailboat, to visiting a Maori village. I was interested in the Maori village trip until I saw that one agent whom I don’t particularly care for was going to be on it, so instead I opted for a trip to three Auckland wineries and a west coast beach. The wineries were pretty good, though none tempted me to become disloyal to the wineries who currently supply us, but the beach was really beautiful, with beautiful black sand that contains so much iron that it can be picked up with a magnet.
One evening I got together with some of the other lodge representatives for dinner at one of Auckland’s newest big-name restaurants, The Grill at Sky City. One of the other guys had been there before and really raved about it, but I hate to say I was underwhelmed, especially since my portion of the bill was just under $200. Granted, we had two magnums of wine to share among the six of us, but it was far from a $200 dinner in my view. I enjoyed my dinner the previous evening far more, at a little Cantonese dive where I spent a whopping $9.50 for a delicious repast. But just when I started to despair of Auckland’s higher-end establishments’ ability to provide a satisfying meal, I went to TRENZ’s farewell shindig at Ponsonby Central. Organised along the lines of a fancy food court, they have mini-restaurants serving Thai, Japanese, South American, Kiwi, and other types of food. Among the stand-outs (that I remember) were a stall with fresh oysters and blini with tuna sashimi, another one with venison sausage rolls, yet another with seared angus steak with horseradish sauce, chorizo thingies and lots of other dishes that I simply cannot recall now. Oh, and there was a lot of wine and cocktails on offer, too…
It was a very good visit, and I think that my attendance will have proved good for the lodge. In a few weeks J2 and I will be back to Auckland for a trade show organised by the lodge association, so I should be seeing a few of the same folks I saw this time. And we’ll be going to dinner at the French Café, another big-name restaurant, but this time coming with a recommendation from some people whose taste I trust a bit more.