New Zealand's newest convention facility has a rockin' pedigree. Event managers who want to put on flashy multimedia events at the Christ-church Convention Centre in New Zea-land and its sister venues, the nearby Town Hall and cross-town WestpacTrust Centre, will find a special weapon at their disposal. In a small office behind the Town Hall's 2,000-square-foot stage, they'll find Jane Spiers, technical services manager for all three facilities. Spiers was one of the four technical trainees hired at Town Hall when it opened 26 years ago. But it isn't her long association with the building that makes her special. It's the career she had in between--as a renowned lighting designer whose resume includes work for the likes of Tina Turner and Paul McCartney. (Hire her and maybe she'll show you her collection of backstage passes.) With decades of experience in venues around the world, Spiers stands by her product in Christchurch. "The very best theater and entertainment acts in the world can be staged [here] without any compromises," she says.

Opened in March 1997, the Christchurch Convention Centre has about 20,000 square feet of pillarless exhibit space. The 25-foot-high ceilings and huge glass-fronted foyer make for a dramatic space. Adjacent to the Convention Centre is the 2,584-seat Town Hall auditorium, originally designed as a concert hall (that 2,000-square-foot stage will hold a 130-piece symphony orchestra comfortably), but the facility's managers are attuned to the needs of corporate entertainment, too. This is also the case at the huge WestpacTrust Theatre, a 43,000-square-foot indoor stadium in Southwest Christchurch that will hold as many as 8,500 attendees.

Also adjacent to the Convention Centre is the 298-room Park Royal Hotel, connected by a pedestrian airbridge. The ziggurat-style building is a landmark in Christ-church and is the city's largest hotel.

Interestingly, the Convention Centre has a small fiber-optic network--but it's only for in-house use. "We find that, more often than not, [organizers] choose to install temporary network solutions for large-scale activities," says Richard Maffey, building services manager. He adds that the facility does have Category 5 copper wire and offers ISDN capability. A directory of Internet Service Providers serving Christchurch can be found at www.nzcentre.co.nz/directory. --David Erickson

Australia Updates The Westin Sydney opened in September, exactly one year before the opening of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in the city. The hotel's 417 rooms are divided between the historic former General Post Office building, with 51 Heritage Rooms and one Long Suite, and the modern, 31-story tower designed to complement the Heritage building with 366 rooms including 18 suites. All guest rooms offer two digital and two analog phone and data lines and an in-room safe large enough to hold a laptop. The Grand Ballroom is the largest pillar-free hotel ballroom in the city, accommodating 1,000 guests for a banquet. The Heritage Ballroom holds 300. The old post office's Telecommunications Center has been converted to six meeting rooms.

The Le Meridien chain plans to open a five-star property in Sydney in March. Just two blocks from the landmark opera house, Le Meridien Sydney will have 415 rooms, including those in the Royal Club featuring computer workstations.

Orient-Express has acquired the 100-room Observatory Hotel in Sydney's downtown historic Rocks area.Meeting space accommodates up to 100 persons.

The 531-room Regent Sydney, which will be the host hotel for the International Olympic Committee for the Summer Games in September, completed a $50 million renovation in December that upgraded its guest and meeting rooms and ballroom. Guest rooms feature voice mail and fax machines. A Regent Club has been added, with a business center that rents computers and mobile phones. The Regent Ballroom can seat 950 theater-style; five other meeting rooms accommodate groups of up to 150.

About 45 minutes south of Melbourne in Geelong, the second largest city in Australia's state of Victoria, Starwood Hotels & Resorts is placing its flag with a new 110-room Four Points Hotel. The midpriced property in the Waterfront Geelong redevelopment area features guest rooms with large desks and telephones with dataports, as well as a health club with indoor swimming pool.

DON'T GET UP! Sydney's new Tumbalong Auditorium is Q&A ready. At any presentation at which more than 100 people are present, a common feature of the Q&A session is audience members queuing up on either side of the meeting room to reach a strategically placed microphone from which to ask questions. Or one or two people may race around with wireless mikes looking for raised hands. These are good systems for interacting with speakers, but not great systems. If you're really, really serious about audience feedback, have we got a meeting room for you: the 1,000-seat Tumbalong Auditorium in the new Sydney Convention Centre South facility, which opened in October. In the Tumbalong, digital microphones are installed in every other seat. Nobody has to get up to ask a question. Every seat comes with a fold-up desktop, and no columns in the room restrict sight lines.

The Tumbalong is one of three main additions to the convention center, the other two being a 12,540-square-foot ballroom and the 23,600-square-foot Exhibition Hall 6, which is linked to the existing halls yet is designed to operate as a stand-alone venue. The South building has eight small meeting rooms, all equipped with audio, lighting, and projection facilities. There is also something new in convention center amenities: an Internet office with six booths, each outfitted to connect a laptop to the Web, quickly and easily.

The South building connects to the 269,000-square-foot Sydney Exhibition Centre on one side and to the approximately 30,000 square feet of available space in the North building on the other. The Exhibition Centre divides into five halls, each with two 30-foot-wide doors opening onto a loading dock.

ISDN-Capable PBX System With the new addition come services already available at the existing Sydney Convention Centre, including miles of Category 5 fiber-optic cable and an in-house PBX that supports ISDN high-speed phone service. Conference organizers will be pleased to learn that Sydney has a competitive market for both Internet and long-distance telephone service (see box).

The Centre's permanent video broadcast facilities, complete with an in-house production team as well as video signal distribution systems, can broadcast events across town via cable or around the world via satellite.

The 525-room Novotel Hotel adjacent to the Centre has eight meeting rooms of its own. The 266-room Furama Hotel is also nearby. The Sydney Convention and Visitors Bureau claims nearly 17,000 hotel rooms within the Darling Harbour area and the city's nearby central business district. A monorail connects the Darling Harbour area to the city center.

Case History So, can Sydney handle your tech requirements? For an example of what is possible, consider the Ninth Australasian Information Online & Ondisc '99 Conference and Exhibition, held in January 1999 for Internet information researchers. It included an Internet showcase in which a dozen new Web-based information portals were not just demoed but run live for inspection by a sophisticated audience of Web researchers. Each portal supported myriad individual Web sites--all of which were up and functioning over the course of the three-day conference, according to organizer Australian Con-vention Management Services.

Connectivity Services in Sydney For a list of Australian Internet Service Providers, visit www.cynosure.com.au/isp. American conference organizers will be pleased to learn that the international long-distance telephone market is competitive in Australia, with such providers as Untimed Global Communications (www.untimedglobal.com.au) and Worldxchange (www.worldxchange.com.au) offering a variety of telecommunications packages.

More useful sites: * www.fed.gov.au/sitelists/web_port.htm is the Australian government's list of Web-connected government offices.

* www.immi.gov.au/allforms/visitors.htm has information on obtaining Australian visas electronically.

* www.customs.gov.au is the home page of the Australian Customs Service.

Australia/New Zealand Resources Christchurch New Zealand Conventions * www.conventionsnz.co.nz

New Zealand Tourism Board * www.nztb.govt.nz

Brisbane Visitors and Convention Bureau * www.visitbrisbane.com.au

Melbourne Convention and Marketing Bureau * www.mcmb.net.au

Sydney CVB * www.scvb.com.au

Tourism Tropical North Queensland * www.tnq.org.au

It may come as no surprise that a Seattle conference center does a lot of high-tech business, but 50 percent? That's right, half the clients at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center (www.bellharbor.org) come from the wired world. And more are likely when an additional 10,000 square feet of exhibit space (expanding its current 4,000 square feet) opens in June.

The new exhibit space may not have the spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains that are a signature of this nonresidential conference center, but it will allow for 50 booths or an 800-person, theater-style gathering. The facility now tops out at 550 people using all the meeting rooms (not including the dining room). The new space will have access to all the high-tech features available in the existing meeting rooms, including T1-speed Internet access, built-in videoconferencing, and built-in satellite downlinking capabilities.

Interestingly, on certain days the new space will not be available for events, high-tech or otherwise. Those will be the days Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line pull their liners up to the adjacent Fisherman's Terminal and Transit Shed and the exhibit hall transforms into a customs area. The terminal and the conference center are owned by the Port of Seattle, and this summer will be Seattle's first season as a cruise port.

Highlights of Bell Harbor, a member of the International Association of Conference Centers, include Bay Auditorium, with 250 seats and six booths for simultaneous interpretation. The tiered venue has built-in rear-screen projection, as do the four main meeting rooms (capacities from 48 to 160 people). Seven small breakout rooms complete the meeting space; for receptions, there's a large outdoor terrace.

As of December, the 217 guest rooms at San Francisco's Serrano Hotel were wired with a digital subscriber line connection, meaning high-speed, plug-in-and-go Internet service. The hotel's five meeting rooms (for up to 120 people) can run multiple computers using a single connection without slowing down the system. The meeting space is also wired for videoconferencing.

Fairmont San Francisco is in the midst of an $80 million renovation. When concluded in November, all 596 guest rooms, public spaces, and building systems will be upgraded.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay has been under construction for nearly a year on the northern California coast. This 261-resort, facing the Pacific Ocean, is expected to open this fall with 17,000 square feet of meeting space, a 16,000-square-foot spa, and six tennis courts. It's nestled between two golf courses operated by Half Moon Bay Golf Links.

The Mount Bachelor Village Resort in Bend, Ore., has added an 8,000-square-foot conference center. Accommodations are in hotel rooms and condos. The resort accommodates meetings of up to 150 attendees.

The outdoor meeting and dining areas at the 262-room Biltmore Hotel & Suites, Silicon Valley, should complete its $5 million exterior renovation by June. The Santa Clara property is also adding a health club.

In Oakland, Calif., two new hotels are expected to open a year from now: The 160-room Courtyard by Mar- riott and the 220-room Hil-ton Gardens.

Portland Oregon Visitors Association * www.pova.com

San Francisco CVB * www.sfvisitor.org

San Jose CVB * www.sanjose.org

Santa Clara CVB * www.santaclara.org

Seattle-King County CVB * www.seeseattle.org