Hobbit fever tipped to turn around tourism dip

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013

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The Hobbit movie and the wedding of a Chinese actress are expected to help winch tourism spending up from its lowest level in more than a decade.

Figures from the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry show spending last year fell 6 per cent on 2011 to $5.4 billion, on a 2 per cent fall in visitor numbers.

A tourism slip was expected after the Rugby World Cup-charged 2011, but last year's spending figure was the lowest since 2001.

Spending by British tourists fell the most, down 21 per cent to $469 million, while Chinese visitors upped their spending a sizeable 42 per cent to $651m.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said about two-thirds of the spending decline could be explained by the Rugby World Cup.

"The other third is a slightly softer arrivals market and a change in mix towards shorter-stay tourists visiting friends and relatives."

The British tourist market, now the third biggest market behind Australia and China, had been hit by the downturn in Europe and the weakening of the pound compared with the New Zealand dollar.

But the Japanese market had recovered after the natural disasters of 2011. Growth in Chinese spending was "extraordinarily strong", and outstripped the 35 per cent leap in visitor numbers - meaning tourists from China were spending more.

Bowler was optimistic that tourist spending would improve this year, partly thanks to The Hobbit.

The NewZealand.com website had received a record 1.55 million unique visitors last month, while airlines and travel agents overseas were reporting growing interest in New Zealand. "A lot of it has been the association with the film."

Chinese actress and "country ambassador" Yao Chen, whose blog has 38 million followers, wed in Queenstown in November and that had prompted a lot more interest from couples in China. "It really got people talking about New Zealand as a luxury and premium destination."

Bruce Thomasen, general manager of Skyline Rotorua - which operates the luge and gondola - said revenue was up 10 per cent last year on 2011 and visits were up 6 per cent. The rise in visitors was due to an increase in domestic tourism after investment in new products and facilities.

International visitor numbers were down. "Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China were up, but we had decreases in the British and United States markets.

"This year we're looking to see growth out of all Southeast Asia markets, small growth out of Australia, good growth out of New Zealand, and for Britain and the US to be flat."

Grant Webster, chief executive of listed campervan firm and Waitomo Caves operator Tourism Holdings, said the trends were in line with its own results.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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