5 Minutes with Craig Fenwick
Meeting Newz recently caught up with our Executive General Manager of Hospitality and Events, Craig Fenwick. Keep reading to hear what he had to say…
Q: Firstly, congratulations on recently celebrating your 17th year at Ellerslie Event Centre. How do you stay passionate about your job?
Thank you – it doesn’t feel like 17 years but there you go! I think the variety I enjoy within my role is a real perk. The wide range of events we see means that every day is different, and this has enabled me to stay fresh despite that 17-year tenure. As an example, one weekend we have coming up later this year sees a formal dinner, wedding, music festival and raceday all scheduled to take place over the course of two days – it’s all go, but absolutely helps keep that passion alive.
I do also have to acknowledge the people I work with and more specifically, my team who go above and beyond. It really helps when you’re surrounded by great people.
Q: Is there a venue in here in New Zealand or overseas that you’d love to visit? Why?
I’ve always had it on my list to experience an event at Melbourne Exhibition Centre.
The scale of the events they put on is impressive, particularly when you consider the high-end quality of their food offering.
It’s recognised as one of the top event centres in the world and it’s just a jump across the ditch.
From a racing venue perspective, I think attending an event such as Royal Ascot would be up there. The amount of history and associated etiquette that venue still commands today is impressive and it’s special to see that commitment to class with the top hats, tails and so forth.
Q: With the removal of the ‘traffic light’ system a few months back it finally feels like we’re starting to see the effects of COVID-19 lift. From your insider perspective of the event world, is this filtering through yet?
We can absolutely feel that positivity and confidence coming back. Even before the removal of the traffic light system, we were seeing a real resurgence of private events in particular to the point where we had our biggest July on record. We’re also seeing a lot of bookings for large birthday celebrations and weddings – many of which I think have been made by those unfortunate people whose big days were cancelled and/or moved. It’s great they are finally able to celebrate.
Q: What were the biggest challenges for you over the past two years?
Like most event businesses, the lockdowns and effective closure of our business for long periods of time was very tough, but it was more the collateral damage – such as a reduction in team numbers – that comes from that which proved the most challenging for me personally.
The flow-on effect of it all has been staff shortages as we move back to a ‘new normal’ with increased staff sickness or an inability for them to work due to isolation periods.
The more recent requirements we all had to work within provided their own set of challenges right from the ground up in ensuring we were compliant in executing them and in a manner we’d like to think was ‘best practice’.
We learned to always have a plan A, B and C – especially when it came to our racedays – and it was great to be able to host smaller groups later on in the COVID-19 response period.
Q: Can you tell us what’s new at Ellerslie Event Centre?
We’ve got a few things on the go at the moment. We’ve just re-launched a newly-renovated space called the Goldstar Room which is available for hire and features a large deck overlooking the racecourse grounds and a custom wooden bar that forms the centrepiece to the space.
We’ve just refreshed our packages for the upcoming summer and festive seasons and we’ve welcomed two new faces to our account manager team recently.
We are also excited to be hosting our first ever music festival within our stables space (these are normally held elsewhere within the grounds) which we hope will encourage others to look at the many and varied spaces we have available with fresh eyes.
It’s great to see someone’s vision come to life in a way others might not expect!
Q: We’ve seen some work taking place on the racetrack that forms part of the event centre grounds. Is this affecting ‘BAU’ for you and your team?
Not at all. The upgrade of the Ellerslie track is a large project being undertaken by the racing side of the business and there won’t be any racing on site for the next 18months or so. It isn’t affecting the event centre operations and, in fact, that lack of weekend racing means we’re actually able to host more weekend events, giving us more freedom and scope to develop other areas like Christmas parties and private events such as weddings and birthdays.
Q: What is your favourite type of event to host? And attend?
Festivals are a newer offering for us and whilst they have their pros and cons, being a part of a successful festival, standing back and watching that volume of people just having a good time would be one of my favourites. It’s a really nice feeling to provide the platform for fun.
As an attendee I really enjoy formal dinners/awards. They are normally of good quality, with good entertainment, and the celebratory mood (complete with champagne!) takes some beating.
Q: What are you most looking forward to from a professional perspective this year?
I’m really looking forward to seeing the event centre come back to its normal operating model and levels. All signs are positive and we’re ready for the challenge. Another focus of the business is sustainability and it’s an area I’m keen to develop this year. We’re in the midst of an audit at the moment and, once complete, will be embarking on a raft of improvements from a social, economic and environmental perspective. Watch this space!
We have also recently acquired a second racing venue – Pukekohe Park – and it’s exciting to have a new venue to learn and discover. I am relishing the challenge of that now that Ellerslie is so familiar.
Click here to see the interview in Meeting Newz.