China looking to Southland for new tourism opportunities
The rapid growth in China's middle-class could lead a surge of Chinese tourism in Southland, according to a prominent Chinese diplomat.
Chinese consul-general for Christchurch Jin Zhijian was in Southland on Thursday and Friday, where he visited a range of businesses in Invercargill and Bluff.
On Friday morning at an event hosted by Export Southland, Jin made a presentation on trade opportunities between Southland and China.
Jin spoke about the rapid changes taking place within the Chinese economy, and the potential increases it could mean for Southland's exporters, investors, and tourist operators.
In particular, the continued growth in China's middle class was creating huge potential for the tourism sector in Southland, Jin said.
With wages rising by 6.3 per cent in 2016 alone, Jin said there were more and more people in China with higher disposable income.
While in 2016, more than 400,000 Chinese tourists visited New Zealand, those numbers may only be the beginning.
"The number of Chinese tourists visiting New Zealand is expected to rise significantly, by 2022 we are estimating there may be as many as 1 million Chinese visitors arriving every year.
"Southland has rich tourism resources – and it offers a different sort of experience from other places.
"I personally believe Southland has the potential to attract a lot more people here."
Jin said changing internal trends within China meant areas like Southland were starting to be seen as a more popular destination.
"In past years, say five years ago, Chinese tourists' impression of New Zealand focused on the North Island, with Auckland as the main destination.
"As more would come to the South Island, enjoying the scenery and other aspects, word of mouth recommendations have seen a change in the pattern of Chinese visitors – now about two-thirds are coming to the South Island."
In addition to this, there was now a new generation of Chinese tourists more confident to explore outside the major centres, Jin said.
"There has been a change in the patterns of travel in China. Now the demographic aged between 20 and 40 have become the dominant portion of travellers from China.
"These people are usually more educated, and more confident to experience something new and challenging.
"In years to come, these visitors from China will increase by a big margin – the size of the middle class has grown and will increase at a much faster rate."
Jin said the biggest issue for attracting the Chinese market to Southland was the promotion of already existing attractions, such as events like the Bluff Oyster Festival.
"Southland is an area unknown to many Chinese visitors.
"The branding of tourist spots is very crucial, so they know what exactly what they will experience and see in Southland."
Jin said it would also be important for tourist operators to be able to adapt their programmes to suit those visitors coming from China.
Venture Southland tourism team leader Warrick Low said tourist operators needed to equipped for catering to the growing Chinese tourist market.
"China is fascinating, they're evolving in this area faster than anyone else in the world.
"They've discovered tourism relatively recently, and they are learning very quickly.
"They also have some different cultural norms, and do things a certain way.
"Having people who can converse well culturally is priceless – we're never going to be perfect but we can focus on improving."
Low also said the growth in Chinese tourism would help diversify Southland's tourist economy.
"We've got to be open to growth from different places, we can't just put all our eggs in one basket with Australia, the UK, and America."
Export Southland chairman Graham Dick said there were big opportunities for Southland to capitalise on both trade and tourism with China.
"It brings into focus the huge potential in front of Southland in the next decade.
"It's up to Southland to go out and take advantage of it though – we can't afford to just sit and wait for it to happen."