Nearly 50,000 Chinese tourists arrive in NZ for February's Golden Week
Nearly 50,000 Chinese holidaymakers will shortly land in New Zealand as experts forecast the biggest "golden week" for Chinese tourists in our history.
January and February are traditionally New Zealand's busiest and most lucrative tourism months but it is the growth in Chinese holiday visitors that is pushing the industry to new peaks.
The so-called "golden week" starting February 7 coincides with the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday week and China's middle class goes on the move particularly to destinations like Thailand and Japan, but also further afield to places such as New Zealand.
Increased air capacity to New Zealand from China is also helping.
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Last February, the country hosted about 46,000 holidaymakers from China, a jump of about 40 per cent on the previous February. The usual February now brings some 20,000 more Chinese holiday makers than a typical January.
Tourism Industry Association (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts said the increase in Chinese tourism was beyond all expectations. In 2013, a 20 per cent annual growth rate seemed an optimistic prediction but it had been far exceeded and showed little sign of slowing.
Roberts said the industry was growing across the board with international tourism growing by 17 per cent.
The Chinese influx will test South Island tourism operators from rental car suppliers to hotel operators but no one is complaining.
President of Hospitality NZ Canterbury Peter Morrison, who owns The Classic Villa boutique hotel in Christchurch, said the year was already very busy and most accommodation would be pretty full but rooms were still available.
"It's certainly pushing us. The Chinese seem to leave booking to the last minute so I've had to turn a number of independent Chinese travellers away."
Trish May, a marketing consultant for the 104-room, 4 Star Edgewater Hotel in Wanaka, said the hotel was booked out for the Golden Week and had been for some months.
Chinese visitors were the hotel's second biggest international market besides Australia, she said.
The Chinese Golden Week certainly showed up in his bookings, Real Journeys (which runs Milford Sound tours, among others) chief executive Richard Lauder said.
"The underlying growth from China is probably the more significant story ... in the quarter up to the end of the December we have experienced 30 per cent growth from China compared to the previous quarter to December and we expect that to flow on to January, February, March like it did last year."
Extra sailings and extra tours were used to handle the peaks but plenty of capacity was available, he said.
"February is the peak for Chinese visitors but the Chinese market is spreading right throughout the year."
Independent travellers from China were starting to form a bigger part of the market, he said.
Barry Kidd, chief executive of the NZ Rental Vehicle Association, said the industry would be at peak levels in February but he was confident enough vehicles were available.
"It may well be the busiest time ever but a lot of the growth has been anticipated and planned for," he said.
With February also the most dangerous time on South Island roads for tourist driver crashes, the association was encouraging operators "to continue to do the things we have put in place in the last 12 months".
Education and messages about NZ driving were brought home to Chinese drivers from the time they applied for a NZ visa to the time they picked up their vehicles, he said.
Police has made some special arrangements for the week but he would let the police talk about them, he said.
Southern District Police were unable to provide any comment before next week.
Christchurch Chinese Consul-General Jin Zhijian said the education campaign appeared to be making some progress. Despite the increase in Chinese drivers last year, accident numbers had not risen in proportion.