Chinese visitor numbers unexpectedly drop in Queenstown

Chinese tourists in Queenstown.
Dasha Kuprienko / Fairfax NZ

Chinese tourists in Queenstown.

Queenstown appears to be bucking the national trend with an unexpected drop in the number of Chinese tourists visiting.

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd said while passenger and accommodation numbers were not available, he was hearing evidence of the downturn from the business community.

"One of the pieces of evidence that supports that is that every one of our hotels has got accommodation available at the moment. Based on previous expectations we wouldn't have expected that.

"I'm also aware from the travel trade that quite a bit of the expected group travellers have cancelled or deferred."

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The free independent traveller (FIT) market also appeared to have dropped.

Reasons behind it possibly included the Kaikoura earthquake, he said.

"It also appears that the availability of hotel rooms and increased pricing has been a factor for Queenstown."

Since 2012 the value of the Chinese market in Queenstown had grown 50 per cent year on year and it was now the resort's biggest market after Australia.

"Clearly that [growth] is not sustainable in terms of capacity and development of market so I did expect it to flatten right down.

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"I expected it to be similar to last's clear to me that with all those bits of evidence that the numbers are down."

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said statistics were not yet available to show what numbers of Chinese visitors had arrived during the Chinese New Year period but indications were that overall the nationwide numbers were similar to last year.

It may be that visitors were turning away from hotspots such as Queenstown in favour of other regions.

"We are hearing reports of very strong visitor growth of Chinese visitors in places like Northland, Tauranga and Timaru.

"It may be that we've been successful in encouraging visitors to disperse to other parts of New Zealand rather than all trying to enjoy the attractions of Queenstown."

There was no evidence the Kaikoura earthquake had affected tourist numbers outside of Kaikoura, he said.

According to Christchurch airport 14,000 Chinese passengers arrived in January, 4000 more than over the same period last year.

Chief commercial officer aeronautical Justin Watson said a lot of Chinese visitors had attended the recent buskers' festival in the city and there were reportedly large numbers also visiting the West Coast and McKenzie country. 

"We're seeing more Chinese through Christchurch than ever but it seems that they might be distributing differently than they have in the past. Those direct flights from China bring more FITs that go off the beaten track. 

"The message was that Queenstown had some capacity problems so they may have been put off going there."

Tourism New Zealand has encouraged tourists to visit during shoulder seasons rather than during the summer peak and its statistics suggest that is working. 

In autumn last year Chinese holiday visitors grew 37 per cent compared with a peak season increase of 18 per cent.

In terms of FITs there was 62 per cent growth in shoulder seasons compared with 23 per cent at peak.

Tourism New Zealand's Director of Trade, PR and Major Events René de Monchy said Chinese travel behaviour was changing with fewer tour groups coming but the number of FIT increasing.

Tourism New Zealand's primary focus was on FITs because they spent more over a longer time period and in more regions, he said.

Budd said that Queenstown had had "pretty awful" summer weather, which had affected many activity providers.

However, it was not clear whether the weather had affected the number of visitors and domestic tourists in town.

"There's no doubt that this is not a boom summer for our businesses...However, it's still early summer and there's still a good two to three months to go and hopefully all other markets are going strong and we'll have a good summer overall."

 - Stuff


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