Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Investment Plan

  1. Industry
  2. Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Events Fund
  3. ThermExREF Investment Plan
The Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Investment Plan has been approved for funding from the Regional Events Fund.

In September 2020, as a result of COVID-19 the New Zealand Government announced a $50 million Regional Events Fund. The purpose of the fund is to stimulate domestic tourism and travel between regions through hosting of events, which is intended to replace expenditure from international tourists. Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs) across the country have been appointed as the facilitators of the fund. The RTOs have been clustered into Event Investment Panel groups with neighbouring regions, and the fund will be split across the groupings based on their share of international visitor spending prior to COVID-19. Please visit for more background on the Regional Events Fund.

Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Investment Plan

A Thermal Explorer Highway Event Investment Panel (EIP) with representatives from the Waikato, Rotorua, Taupō and Ruapehu regions has been established. Their responsibilities include the planning and delivery of the Regional Investment Plan, and to collaborate and make decisions on funding distribution. Hamilton & Waikato Tourism is the Lead Entity for the Thermal Explorer Highway EIP and is responsible for the coordination of the EIP, the development of the Regional Investment Plan, managing the relationship between the four regions and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), and to provide administrative duties to facilitate the management of the Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Events Fund (REF). 

Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Investment Plan Overview

Amount of funding approved

$3.75 million (GST excl.) to be used over the next 2 – 4 years

Regions represented

Waikato, Rotorua, Taupō and Ruapehu

Executive Summary

Our purpose for the Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Events Fund (REF) is to create a contestable fund that will be utilised to focus on developing, securing or enhancing new and existing events to become long term sustainable “iconic” or “anchor” events for the regions; and to support capability development of the event ecosystem in the regions of the Thermal Explorer area. 

Our overall goal and key focus areas include:

  • work with a select number of events that achieve high impact, relative to the host region, with seed funding for development and then one-two years of decreasing financial support enabling events to become self-sustainable after the duration of REF support.
  • prioritise events that are likely to have an impact on more than one region of the wider Thermal Explorer region, i.e. an event hosted across 2, 3 or all 4 of our regions.
  • support and pursue common themes including water related events, cultural/heritage, culinary/food/brews, agriculture/equine, adventure, conservation, music, age-group related sport events, and high-performance sport. This will be across a range of event types, including events that are ticketed, exhibitions or business events.
  • build capability of existing event venues, organisers, and support services within the regions.

Our success will be measured by viable event sector/suppliers/providers in our regions; and the delivery of events that:

  • strive to be sustainable
  • increase regional visitation (preferably during shoulder seasons)
  • create a positive economic impact
  • improve social wellbeing and pride-of-place for residents
  • provide “good news stories”
  • support iwi and community engagement
Fund Management Process

The Event Investment Panel (EIP) have agreed to utilise the funds that best support the regions. It has been agreed that expenditure and number of events will be proportionately weighted across four regions, and that we need to remain flexible enough to grasp an opportunity if there is an event that will benefit the four regions collectively, regardless of the host region.

A) Contestable Fund Application Process

A large portion of the REF for our regions, is being utilised to create a contestable fund. The EIP are developing an application and evaluation process that will encourage applicants to outline and demonstrate how their event will drive inter (from one region to another) and intra-regional visitation (within the same region, 50km from home).

  • There will be two application periods (2021 and 2022) for events to apply for a maximum of THREE years funding. If not over-subscribed, or funds remain available into the third/fourth years, additional application period may be required.
  • Funding can be offered as 1 – 3 years (one-off grant or diminishing seed funding) with focus on development of events. There is a strong expectation that events will be self-sustainable after REF funding.
  • There will be a two-staged application process:
    • Step One: Expression of Interest (EOI) application – we will invite applications for an Expression of Interest, then use evaluation criteria to shortlist events to progress to the next stage.
    • Step Two: Presentations – shortlisted applicants will be invited to present to the Event Investment Panel – providing time for the applicants to present their event, time for the Panel to ask questions or make suggestions to strengthen the event offering.
  • We are seeking expressions of interest for events that are of larger scale (relative to the host region), have greater impact on visitation and have potential to grow to be one of our ‘anchor’ or ‘iconic’ events.
  • Applications will be invited for both new events and expansion of existing events across all event types.
  • Preference will be events that can show their domestic visitors are more likely/able to stay longer and spend more in our regions.
  • Funding Agreements – once funding decisions are finalised, funding agreements will be established. Funding may be divided between pre- and post- delivery of the event, dependent on the event meeting their contracted KPIs.
  • Event Measurement & Reporting – event measurement will be in line with MBIE methodology and reporting requirements. All funded events will have an event measurement KPI included in their funding agreement which outlines the key information they are required to collect, measure and report on. The Panel will then collate and prepare reports from all funded events and present to MBIE as per reporting requirements.

Evaluation Process

The evaluation of applications at each stage of the process will be based on an evaluation criteria:

  • an initial assessment upon receipt of Expression of Interest application followed by;
  • review and recommendations from the Panel; and
    a final evaluation for shortlisted applications during and following their presentation.

In conjunction with the overall evaluation criteria, events will need to:

  • comply with all legislative requirements surrounding the events industry, including the current New Zealand Event Sector Voluntary Code.
  • provide robust evidence of their visitation predictions and how they will achieve such predictions – this may include appropriately prepared feasibility reports for new events.

(NOTE:  evaluation criteria will be made available when EOI are invited)

B) Capability Building

A portion of the REF funding will be utilised for capability building in the Thermal Explorer regions:

  • Develop, update, and extend Event Strategies for all four regions.
  • Industry Capability building – workshops/events will be hosted within each of the regions (one to two events per year with alternate location each event) with the aim to invite all event professionals from throughout the four regions.

C) Administration

An Event Secretariat has been employed to facilitate the administrative functions.

For more information

Lead Entity for the Thermal Explorer Highway Regional Events Fund:

Hamilton & Waikato Tourism

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