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Meet The New Heads Of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s Tourism And Major Events Team

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited (TAU) is pleased to announce two key appointments in its Destination rōpū (unit) today.

Michelle Hooper MNZM has been appointed Head of Major Events and Karen Thompson-Smith Head of Tourism. Both were born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau and bring extensive expertise to their new roles.

Michelle Hooper MNZM
Karen Thompson-Smith

Michelle is a seasoned major events professional with an excellent track record in delivering successful mega events. She served as Tournament Director of the groundbreaking Rugby World Cup 2021 (played in 2022), an event celebrated globally for supercharging women’s rugby. Michelle has also orchestrated events and managed teams for renowned entities such as World Rugby, FIFA, America’s Cup, New Zealand Olympic Committee and Team New Zealand. She has been recognised for her contribution with a King's Birthday Honour in 2023, becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for Services to Sport.

“With Auckland’s reputation for delivering major events at an all-time high following the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, we have a great opportunity for really showcasing our competitive advantage as a people and a region on the world stage,” Michelle says.

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“We must continuously deliver events that reflect the spirit and values of Auckland and Aucklanders — a region where tradition and progress harmonise and thrive. Events help inspire our people to achieve on the world-stage and grow Auckland's international reputation and visitation as a world-class destination by demonstrating what great looks like”.

Karen Thompson-Smith has worked in the hospitality and tourism sector for three decades. She worked with Tourism New Zealand for several years, including a period with its North American team, before returning to the Aotearoa New Zealand office to focus on global events. From there, she joined Tātaki Auckland Unlimited (formerly ATEED) and led the Destination Development team.

Since 2022, Karen has worked as the Destination and Sustainability Manager at TAU where she spearheaded the completion of local destination management plans and supported research on the region’s nighttime visitor economy.

“I’m looking forward to joining the leadership team and revisiting the Destination AKL 2025 strategy, advancing it out to 2035 to provide direction, leadership, and guardianship for our region – not just as the gateway to Aotearoa New Zealand but as a stand-alone visitor destination,” Karen says.

“We will work collaboratively with tourism sector stakeholders and foster strong partnerships which support growth and sustainability of Auckland’s tourism industry.”

TAU’s Destination rōpū spans major events, business events, and the visitor economy sector. It works with the local businesses and operators, as well as national and international partners to promote Tāmaki Makaurau as a compelling destination, for leisure visitors and business events, driving visitation to generate economic, social and cultural benefits for the region. Auckland is New Zealand’s most connected city to the world with 26 airlines operating to 42 international destinations.

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