Tourist numbers reveal Chinese puzzle

A rising tide of Chinese and Australian visitors is helping to keep the tourism market afloat in New Zealand.

But many Chinese visitors on package tours are not as big a boon as they could be for local businesses, according to an industry group.

Tourism from China is booming, up 38 per cent in the year to November, hitting almost 195,000, and is expected to top 200,000 for the calendar year. That has helped offset a dive in numbers from Britain, down 17 per cent in the past year, to about 191,000, reflecting a dropoff after last year's influx for the Rugby World Cup.

China overtook Britain, becoming New Zealand's second-biggest source of visitors in the November 2012 year. Australia remains by far the largest source of tourists at 1.1 million in the past year.

Overall, tourist arrivals in November were almost flat on the same month last year, despite a great leap up in arrivals from China. The annual figures are also almost level with a year ago, despite the World Cup boost in 2011.

But, while the Chinese market is expected to keep booming, possibly doubling in the next five years, tourism groups say that a lot of the benefit goes straight back to Chinese tour operators.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Martin Snedden said China was "booting ahead" month after month, with state forecasts suggesting visitors could double in five years or so.

"The challenge with China is not about numbers but value," he said, to get visitors to stay longer and spend more.

About 70 per cent of Chinese visitors come to New Zealand for a three-day shopping trip after visiting Australia. But there were "strong restrictions" where visitors could shop on those tours.

"The shopping trips are controlled by Chinese operators based in China or Australia . . . and the bulk of the profits [as much as half] from these trips is retained offshore," Snedden said.

The tourism sector was trying to give "viable alternatives" to those shopping trips.

"They don't get the best experience . . . and the value from them is not retained in New Zealand," Snedden said. "So the numbers look good but the value is nowhere near as good as it should be."

However, the Japanese market was "starting to turn" and improve, with Air New Zealand putting on more capacity with rising bookings, especially from people in their 20s. Japanese tourists increased 3 per cent in November compared with last year.

The United States market was also starting to lift, but numbers had dropped more than 17 per cent in the November year.


November tourism: Holiday visitor arrivals in November 2012, at 109,800, were similar to November 2011 at 110,000, but there were big differences by country.

China: up 2500

Australia: up 2000

Britain: down 2000

Germany and United States: both down 700

There were 2.565 million visitor arrivals in the November year, down 1 per cent from the November 2011 year (2.583 million), which was boosted by visitor arrivals for the Rugby World Cup.

Australia remained the biggest source of tourists, accounting for 45 per cent of all visitors to New Zealand.

China now accounts for 8 per cent of visitors.