Tour NZ in the lap of luxury

New Zealand a playground for ultra-rich

IAN STEWARD
Last updated 09:45 29/12/2013

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An on-call professional ping- pong opponent reachable by private helicopter is just one of the requests of the ultra-rich who are increasingly calling New Zealand their playground.

The luxury sector - private jets, exclusive resorts and "bespoke" vacations - has been identified as a growth area for tourism and the Government is spending $20 million to attract more "high net worth individuals" to our shores.

Luxury home rental company director Jacqui Spice said high-end customers knew they were not coming to New Zealand for "gold-plated sinks". However, they still sought "seamless", "tailored" experiences, she said.

One request, with which she duly complied, was to have a professional ping-pong player constantly on hand for a client.

"He would fly by helicopter to the events centre every day to play ping-pong with this professional - and this was something like a 10-minute drive."

Spice's company, Touch of Spice, has a roster of luxury homes for hire. One four-bedroom home in Queenstown, The Crib, was listed for $7200 per night. They would also tailor-make holidays with back-stage access.

"It's going and meeting Peter Jackson, not just a screening of The Hobbit," she said.

Tourism New Zealand's yet-to- be-released Premium Sector Strategy, obtained by the Star-Times, shows six dedicated staff will focus on luring multi-millionaires and billionaires to our shores in a marketing strategy that concentrates not on the wealthy themselves but on their "gatekeepers" - the staff and advisers of the ultra-wealthy who arrange their trips.

Tourism NZ director of trade Justin Watson said ultra-high net- worthers often arranged travel through "destination marketing companies" (DMCs) that provided concierge services that met private jets at the airport, saw them through customs and arranged every aspect of their stays, such as drivers and helicopter transfers, and were on hand to remake itineraries on a whim. "The bulk of these people, you never know they're in the country," he said.

Tourism NZ estimated there were 12 million high net-worth individuals (HNWI) worldwide - people with more than US$1 million in investable assets.

The strategy will focus on the top two tiers of that pyramid - the million or so people with more than US$5 million fortunes (very high net-worth) and the 111,000 people with more than $30 million (ultra high net-worth).

"Successful marketing to the top two luxury tiers will ensure success with the bottom premium tier of HNWI who are influenced by the tiers above them." The strategy will concentrate on the US - where more than a quarter of HNWI's live - Japan and western Europe.

Claudia Rossi Hudson, of Sydney-based luxury travel group Mary Rossi Travel, said marketing to the ultra-high net-worth group was difficult as they moved in rarefied circles and often wouldn't stay in the luxury lodges or hotels that other rich-listers frequented.

The Tourism NZ strategy paper said many ultra-high net-worthers had a "family office" that ran their affairs and booked their holidays. There were more than 5000 family offices in the US with an average staff of nine. The next wealth-level down, very-high net-worthers, often used a private bank or boutique luxury travel adviser such as Rossi.

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Rossi Hudson said NZ's strength with the very-high group was its lodge scene with resorts such as Kauri Cliffs in Northland, Huka Lodge in Taupo and Blanket Bay in Queenstown. A high-season night at Blanket Bay costs between $1590 and $2950 per couple.

A typical 18-day itinerary arranged by Rossi's New Zealand affiliates Southern Crossings runs to $52,000 and includes private drivers, a "private half-day Maori cultural experience", and guided tours and hikes of national parks.

- Sunday Star Times

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