Partnership hopes to boost Japanese tourist numbers
Tourism bosses hope a new partnership between Air New Zealand and All Nippon Airways (ANA) will be a key ingredient in reviving the flagging Japanese tourist market this year.
The number of visitors to New Zealand from Japan has plummeted in recent times, down from 165,000 in the market's heyday to just 66,000 last year.
However, Tourism New Zealand and the national carrier say the picture for the rest of 2012 is looking rosier.
It's hoped the new codeshare arrangement between Air New Zealand and ANA, officially launched last week, will help. It will open up access to domestic destinations and beyond for tourists from both countries, making bookings and transfers easier. Air New Zealand has also moved into the same terminal as ANA at Tokyo's Narita Airport, the last of the Star Alliance loyalty programme members to do so.
Air New Zealand deputy CEO Norm Thompson said it would take some work to kickstart the market, but it was showing a lot of promise, particularly from a new demographic of younger travellers.
"What's been really good for us has been [ANA's] enthusiasm – they're giving us opportunities to do joint marketing," he said.
"We've proven to ourselves that the market does move when you put some deals out there."
Air New Zealand was launching other initiatives to attract the Japanese visitor this year, such as flights to Mt Cook – a top destination for Japanese people – and flights from Rotorua to Queenstown.
Tourism New Zealand's regional manager for Japan, Nick Mudge, said the market had been recovering prior to February 2011. In January of that year visitor numbers had been up 11 per cent, its first growth in nearly a decade.
Then the Christchurch and east Japan earthquakes happened, causing a rush of cancellations and a subsequent reduction in airline seat capacity.
But the airlines had put on 66 per cent more capacity for this coming season. Tourism New Zealand was getting interest from other airlines including Korean Air and Jetstar, and ran its first joint marketing campaign with Jetstar in February, he said.
In addition, the quality of Japanese visitors to New Zealand was still high, Mudge said. "They like to shop, they like to do things."
The tourism agency was continuing to target the traditional older tour group Japanese tourist, but a new market of 20 to 35-year-olds had opened up.
This was typefied by the "Yama Girl" craze – groups of young women who dress up in colourful outdoor wear to go hiking. "The best way to describe it is a mixture of fashion, hiking and friendship. The Japanese are a lot more into the aesthetic of the whole experience," Mudge said.
Tourism New Zealand was working with the woman credited with starting the Yama Girl fad – model and blogger Yuri Yosumi, who spends half the year in New Zealand. It had a group of Yama Girls coming to the South Island to go hiking next week for a Japanese magazine story, he said.
The Japanese travel market generally was recovering, with a number of low-cost carriers launching for the first time. The Air New Zealand/ANA deal was "important, and absolutely welcomed by us", he said.
ANA is the first airline in the world to fly the new generation Boeing 787 Dreamliner including on several domestic routes, such as Tokyo to Okayama – a route on which it normally competes with the Shinkasen bullet train.
- Maria Slade flew to Tokyo courtesy of Air New Zealand