Delivering a year of virtual meetings

As APEC 2021 host, New Zealand set an agenda focused on policies to manage the economic and health effects of COVID-19 and to help communities recover.

APEC’s 21 economies worked together to find practical solutions to defeat COVID-19, accelerate the region’s economic recovery, respond to climate change, and build inclusive growth.

New Zealand successfully hosted APEC’s first fully virtual year in 2021. The decision to go virtual was the result of disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Between the first meeting on 9 February and the last on 12 November 2021, there were over 350 formal APEC virtual meetings, plus more than 100 testing sessions, informal meetings and bilateral meetings that happened on the periphery.

The New Zealand Government decided to host APEC 2021 virtually in June 2020 in response to the global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including border restrictions. 2021 was the first time a full APEC year had been hosted virtually.

Source: New Zealand to host virtual APEC in 2021 |

8568 delegates registered to attend at least one meeting through the year, and more than 550 media from around the world registered to cover related events, including highly produced virtual media conferences.

APEC meetings across the year covered topics ranging from food security and finance to trade, women, indigenous and leaders. Meetings involved Leaders, Ministers, officials and diplomats representing the 21 economies.

Meetings included formal and informal meetings, bilateral and multilateral discussions, policy drafting sessions, speeches, media conferences, panel discussions, Leaders’ meetings, the CEO Summit and Voices of the Future youth conference.

An Informal Leaders’ Retreat was hosted in July to shape a regional response to the recovery from COVID-19, the first time in APEC’s history Leaders had met outside of Leaders’ Week.

People looking at computer and television screens in a media control room.
A production crew were key to the smooth running of the virtual meetings.

Leaders’ Week in early November was the pinnacle of New Zealand’s host year. It brought together political, business and young leaders for a series of events, including the APEC Leaders’ Economic Meeting, the ABAC Leaders’ Meeting, the APEC CEO Summit 2021, the APEC Ministerial Meeting and the Voices of the Future youth conference.

New Zealand successfully led an agenda which supported and enabled trade that is inclusive and sustainable. A vital pillar of work during New Zealand’s host year was the APEC region’s response to COVID-19, mapping out a response that delivers for all.

Significantly, we led the completion of the Aotearoa Plan of Action(external link) (APA), a detailed plan to help build the peace, prosperity, well-being and resilience of its 2.7 billion people, now and into the future.

Wide shot of a news desk set, presenters and camera crew rehearsing for the APEC CEO Summit 2021.
The virtual APEC CEO Summit 2021 was hosted from the Aotea Centre in Auckland and was watched by thousands across the APEC region.

Overcoming the challenges of hosting virtually

Pivoting to a virtual host year was not a simple exercise. Designing a programme of virtual meetings that allowed New Zealand to progress an ambitious policy agenda took meticulous planning and an innovative approach, including continuous improvement over the course of the year.

Time zones, privacy, online security requirements, registrations, pandemic lock downs and restrictions created challenges for hosting an entire year of virtual meetings.

Delivering a positive delegate experience

APEC NZ developed a system to deal with thousands of delegates and hundreds of meetings across the year, and make sure delegates had a positive experience.

A tailored IT system supported registration, document sharing and meeting participation all through a single portal. The meeting process was streamlined so delegates could get straight down to business. A technical team was on standby throughout every meeting to sort out any issues quickly and discretely without interrupting the flow of discussions.

To help with the feel of a real meeting, and ensure everyone appeared at their best, the APEC concierge worked with delegates and officials before meetings started to ensure delegates’ lighting, framing and audio was good and put them at ease in preparation for the meeting ahead.

Replacing the informal meetings delegates usually had over a break or meal into the virtual context was one of the biggest challenges. Space for these informal discussions was created by doing a lot of work before meetings to create connections via email, phone and other communications apps.

The APEC NZ virtual meeting platform also supported informal engagement in several ways, such as breakout spaces.

Behind the scenes of the APEC 2021 concluding senior officials meeting showing computer and media screens.
The Concluding Senior Officials Meeting.

Time zones and meeting length

Dealing with 20 other economies  across 11 time zones made it difficult to schedule meetings that were at convenient times for all participants. New Zealand aimed to schedule meetings at times that worked for other economies. For the APEC NZ team, that often meant working in the small hours of the morning. Meeting times were limited to about 3 hours so delegates remained engaged and productive.

Virtual meeting security

Security was key to New Zealand’s host year, and to the success of APEC 2021. To achieve this New Zealand:

  • prepared systems, processes and people thoroughly, including comprehensive testing
  • worked with security experts and companies to provide strong digital and physical security for the virtual setup
  • prepared contingencies in case a security issue did impact
  • developed multiple plans and processes to activate if the system went down

The opportunities of hosting APEC virtually

Hosting APEC brings with it enormous benefit – regardless of the way in which it is hosted. In 2021, it meant New Zealand was at the forefront of supporting the APEC region to respond and recover from the impact of the COVID crisis.

While delivering the first-ever virtual APEC was a challenge, there were also opportunities.

Because delegates only had to log in for a three-hour meeting, rather than travel internationally to attend a meeting physically, New Zealand was able to get the right people in the room. We could also hold a wider range of meetings, such as the Informal Leaders’ Retreat in July. This was the first time in APEC’s history that leaders held an additional meeting at Leaders’ level.

Hosting virtually improved access to some of the activities that happen around APEC. An example of this was the annual APEC App Developer Challenge.  In 2021 it attracted its largest number of registrations, and from a broader range of economies than previous years. Travel usually restricts the challenge to roughly 24 participants; in 2021 there were over 170 competing.

The global pandemic meant digital diplomacy was increasingly important and, as a year-long virtual programme, APEC 2021 broke new ground. Hosting virtually provided an opportunity for New Zealand to demonstrate its digital capability to its most important regional trade partners, as well as its leadership in the new frontier of digital diplomacy.

Thousands of positive media results

Hosting APEC included delivering a virtual media program to gain support for New Zealand’s policy priorities, and build New Zealand’s reputation for digital diplomacy and as a valued regional trade partner.

The focus was on making it as easy as possible for media to cover APEC 2021 remotely. A package of media materials was developed for each significant meeting, including a comprehensive media kit, media releases, images and video footage.

High quality, well branded media conferences showcased New Zealand’s digital capability and created a sophisticated and interactive experience for media with key APEC spokespeople.

By the end of New Zealand’s host year, 550 national and international print, TV, radio and digital media were APEC accredited, producing  more than 14,500 largely positive media results.

APEC by the numbers

If you were to watch each meeting held during New Zealand’s host year back-to-back, it would be like watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy 107 times, with a cast of nearly 8600.

  • 350 meetings, totalling more than 1000 hours
  • across 17 different APEC time zones
  • involving more than 8500 delegates, who rated APEC New Zealand’s hospitality at 4.5 out of 5.
  • 43 Leader and Ministerial bilateral meetings
  • 550 accredited national and international media producing, 14,500 media results.

Read more about New Zealand’s work with APEC


We use cookies and other tracking technologies to improve your browsing experience on our website, to analyze our website traffic, and to understand where our visitors are coming from. You can find out more information on our Privacy Page.