23 Nov 2023

Auckland businesses blindsided by SailGP cancellation

8:04 pm on 23 November 2023
The New Zealand SailGP Team helmed by Peter Burling celebrate after winning in Denmark 2022.

The New Zealand SailGP Team helmed by Peter Burling celebrate after winning in Denmark 2022. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The cancellation of SailGP, scheduled to be hosted in Auckland next year, feels like a "gut punch" for business in the city centre.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited has confirmed SailGP will not be hosted in the super city because of the unavailability of Wynyard Point for spectators.

The area was used to store petrol and chemicals, and did not get approval for use, leaving hundreds of businesses shipwrecked.

The SailGP competition was expected to generate revenue of $5 million for Auckland with more than 5000 people predicted to attend, plus staff, delegations and sponsors.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited said the issue with the contaminated land was known by the organisation months in advance. But businesses in the city centre said they knew nothing about the possible cancellation.

Park Hyatt Auckland general manager Brett Sweetman said the news came as a surprise.

"I've heard nothing, and that is why it was such a shock. I just thought everything was good - everything had been booked, we had businesses on the book, so we were excited."

Sweetman said businesses were frustrated with the decision.

"Devastating is the word for it. It was probably the one event we had scheduled in our planning for next year, and to lose it is devastating for us and for Auckland."

Sweetman said the sudden cancellation has left everyone at a loss.

"We already had four bookings, and I received two emails today from groups who were holding a reservation with us asking for their money back.

"For our hotel we have group bookings that we have to cancel now, and for the surrounding hospitality industry there will be a huge loss of revenue for these people [who] have done really tough in these the past couple of years."

Sofitel Viaduct Harbour general manager Reto Borrer said losing the event was disappointing.

"Cancelling such an event is a little bit like a gut punch, it takes your breath away for a moment. You lose the opportunity to come together as a unit. It's really sad to see."

Borrer said it was a shock when he heard the competition would not be hosted in Auckland.

"It was a bit shocking yes, we are disappointed. But it is not only the monetary loss you have in the hotel… It is about showcasing Auckland as the beautiful city it is, after so many bad news around shootings and the gangs, internationally it would have helped Auckland to regain the trust in tourism."

The NZ Marine Industry Association had been working closely with the council and the organisation of SailGP for over two years in the lead-up to the competition. Executive director Peter Busfield said the cancellation impacted several other events.

"We moved the dates of our Boat Show forward one week and we relocated some of the footprint plan so Auckland City could accommodate SailGP.

"The news to us was a huge surprise and it came out of nowhere."

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Contaminated land at Wynyard Quarter. Photo: Sharon Brettkelly

Busfield said Auckland Council needed to do better.

"I think it needs a shift in approach. All the agencies of [the] council [should] either stick to the rule book and say 'this is too difficult' ... or they have a directive from the top to say, 'We are an event-friendly city, do what you can to make it happen.'"

Funding an issue - Heart of the City

The cancellation left another gap in an already short events calendar for next year, with the council-controlled agency struggling to work with a tight budget.

Heart of the City's Viv Beck said conversations with the incoming government around funding would be crucial for the events industry.

"Particularly the large [events] that take a lot of planning, towards the end of next year we start to run out of those, and that's not good.

"Discussions between the new government, when it's formed, with Auckland [Council] will be important because funding is an issue."

Through a statement, Tātaki Auckland Unlimited chief executive Nick Hill said it was important to note Wynyard Point was privately leased.

"And [the land] is going through remediation as it was previously used as a petroleum storage site. Until remediation is complete, the site is not safe for public use."

The SailGP fleet in action on Lyttelton Harbour in Christchurch.

The SailGP fleet in action on Lyttelton Harbour in Christchurch. Photo: Photosport

Hill said the agency came out publicly about the cancellation as soon as it could to give businesses and stakeholders a heads-up.

"We acknowledge that businesses have had it tough the past few years, and events are one of the major revenue earners for them. Like these business owners, we are also disappointed that the event isn't happening in Auckland next year.

"At the same time, Aucklanders and visitors can look forward to a string of other exciting events that will be happening in Tāmaki Makaurau in 2024."

'Ready if needed be' - Lyttelton councillor

With the City of Sails out of the picture, Christchurch could be in the running to host the 2024 SailGP yacht racing once more.

Thousands of spectators turned out earlier this year to watch the racing at Christchurch's Lyttelton Harbour.

Christchurch City Councillor for Lyttelton Tyrone Fields told Midday Report the region would be ready to host the event once more if the opportunity knocked.

"It is a pretty tight turnaround, 10 weeks or so, but absolutely we can. I know that the people who are exploring this are the right people to be able to turn this around if it needs to be turned around.

"Lyttelton absolutely would be ready if it needs to be."

RNZ approached Christchurch City Council to check if it had started any conversations with the event's organisation about hosting the competition. Through a statement, a spokesperson said they had no comment at this time.

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