Our Stories: Fiona MacDonald

Written by Jen Hacker.

Fiona Macdonald is one of those rare people that knew what she wanted to do from a young age. As an avid outdoor sports fan in her teens, Fiona was keen to promote the beautiful country and landscape and knew that a career in tourism was for her.FionaMcDonald

“People who work in tourism boards tend to be incredibly proud and I was, I still am, an incredibly proud kiwi,” she says. “Working in that industry is a great way to show off how great your country is.”

One of her early career highlights was when former Prime Minister John Key personally chose to give tourism the senior ministerial platform that it so richly deserves. Key was one of the few PMs to choose to become the Minister for Tourism and Fiona, who was working at the Ministry of Tourism at the time, believes that showed the importance of the sector. “It’s really one of the best outcomes that a country’s tourism board can ask for,” she says. “It helped elevate the industry on New Zealand’s radar and it’s now taken very seriously.”

After moving to London in 2011, Fiona now calls both NZ and the UK home so it’s fitting that she’s putting that same sense of national pride into her current role representing Britain. As the Senior Manager for Business Events at VisitBritain - the UK’s national tourist board, Fiona works in attracting international events to the UK as part of the government-wide ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign.

Few industries have been struck as dramatically as events have been this year. “The events industry was one of the first to stop with Covid and sadly it will be one of the last to come back,” says Fiona. “But with every crisis comes new innovations and trends. It’ll be really interesting to see what innovation will stick in 12 months time, in 2 years time.”

Online events have completely taken over in 2020 so will we even return to physical events? Fiona believes the answer is yes, in part. “I think virtual will stay but they don’t offer the same as live events. I think live events will return with a different value to virtual events.”

“Virtual events are really about reach - you can reach entirely new audiences and a greater number of people but there’s less engagement,” she explains. “Live events might not have as many people but the interaction is much deeper and engagement much richer.”

Somewhere in between live and virtual, we have the hybrid event which is a live event that is also delivered virtually. Such events typically have a small live audience but allow others to join in remotely, giving people more choice over how they want to attend. “Hybrid events have definitely come really far in quite a short space of time,” says Fiona. “This has been in the background for a while but it’s been massively expedited in the last 6 months.”

Fiona envisages a future landscape of all three event styles, each serving its own purpose. “Virtual will be about reach, live will be about depth and engagement and hybrid will offer choice.”

On top of her work for VisitBritain, Fiona is the inaugural NZBWN Board Member for Programme and Events. It’s a role that has turned out to be quite different from what she’d imagined when she applied earlier this year, due to COVID. Rather than attending a range of events around London, Fiona has been busy creating a calendar full of virtual events to bring us all together in this strange time.

Going virtual this year has brought some fantastic opportunities for the network and allowed for a greater range of people to attend. “We’re seeing people log on from NZ, from outside of London and even other countries which is fantastic.”

The Member Masterclasses, in particular, have been a huge hit with a range of great speakers willing to share their time and expertise on a wide range of interesting topics.

“It’s all about connections though,” she says. “We have such uniquely relevant content and Kiwi connections. When members attend, they quickly find natural commonalities and you just feel like you’re home. You can be talking with people you’ve never met before but it instantly feels so familiar.”

Fiona is looking forward to the next Winter Warmers event, happening on December 14, after the great success of the first Winter Warmers virtual social event earlier this month.

“It’s going to be really important over the next few months in the UK to make sure that we’re still finding ways to have social connections,” she says “If winter and social isolation is getting a bit tough, then this will be a really important one for members to connect.”

Book your spot via our events section.