NZ needs to cater to Chinese tourists

IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED: Growth is expected to continue in the inbound Chinese tourism market.
IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED: Growth is expected to continue in the inbound Chinese tourism market.

While many Chinese visitors delayed travel to New Zealand last month the number of American tourists rose apparently because of the Hobbit movie, Tourism New Zealand believes.

Total visitor numbers in January fell 2.3 per cent month on month, and by 2 per cent to 2.5 million for the January year, according to Statistics New Zealand.

However, arrivals from the US rose 16.6 per cent or 3500 during the month.

Visitors from the US had in fact been increasing since late last year, said Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler.

Both holiday and cruise ship visitors from America were up strongly and the only possible reasons he could find were a slight increase in available airline seats between the two countries - and the release of the Hobbit.

"The only thing that would explain that result is the movie, really."

The other major trend was a 19 per cent drop in visitors from China in January, but industry figures were unconcerned because they expected a healthy rebound this month.

Travel is traditional with Chinese New Year, which started this month rather than in January as it did last year. But things were looking up for the February figures.

Ken McTague, operations manager at ATS Pacific, an inbound tour operator for the Chinese market, had seen a "huge increase" in tourists for Chinese New Year, and his business did not include the many visiting friends or family. "Compared with other months, we're probably looking at 60 to 70 per cent more people, just for one month."

He also felt New Zealand had been unprepared for the speed with which China had become the country's second-biggest source of tourists.

Language-wise, many were affluent young professionals who could speak English, but there were an equal number of baby-boomers who could not.

"You may recall we had a boom in Japanese tourists years ago and every shop had a Japanese-speaking staff member and signs were in Japanese. We basically need to do the same thing now for Chinese."

GPS systems in Chinese were also needed for a growing number of independent Chinese travellers, he said.

Bowler agreed that New Zealand needed to pick up its game as it tried to raise the level of spend from Chinese tourists.

New Zealand was still largely a destination tacked on the back of a visit to Australia, but within one year, the percentage of Chinese tourists staying only for three days or under had fallen from 80 per cent to 70 per cent.

Year on year, Chinese visitor numbers were maintaining an annual growth rate of nearly 25 per cent.

Bowler was also taking heart from a recovery in Japanese tourists, which plunged after the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes.

Japanese visitor numbers rose 8.8 per cent in the January month and 10.2 per cent for the full year.

Fairfax Media