Instagram thanked for South Island tourism boom
A booming tourism trade in the South Island is breaking records, out-growing the North Island nearly two to one.
Tourism authorities have attributed the growth, in part, to one thing: the South Island looks good on Instagram.
For the second consecutive year, the number of guest nights in parts of the South Island have grown at unprecedented levels, as tourists surge into nooks and crannies previously unknown to outsiders.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) figures show that in the year to January, guest nights rose 7 per cent in the South Island, following 8 per cent growth the year before.
The North Island grew 4 per cent both years.
A guest night refers to each overnight stay at a hotel, motel, backpacker or holiday park from someone out of town.
Mackenzie and Wanaka, areas with small towns amid dramatic landscapes, had explosive growth.
Data shows they were the fastest tourism growth areas in the country (14 per cent), followed by Fiordland (10 per cent).
In Wanaka, the growth, particularly in overseas visitors, was attributed to Instagram.
Lake Wanaka Tourism tried something new in 2015 - it attracted "influencers," people with large online followings who set trends through their social media use.
"We've done everything from Insta-meets, when you get a whole lot of people coming together to take photos to put on Instagram, to hosting influencers from around the world," general manager James Helmore said.
"[Influencers] come across as very credible and authentic, as opposed to looking at an advert you know is being paid for by a company or a region."
Wanaka brought American photographer Chris Burkard, who has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, to host the Insta-meet.
His photos of Wanaka got up to 50,000 "likes" each.
The strategy had worked so successfully Australia's Gold Coast tourism body had partnered with Wanaka to expand its influencer programme, Helmore said.
With its glacial lakes and rugged, snow-capped mountains, the South Island is well-suited to escapist imagery popular on social media.
Instagrammer Emilie Ristevski, who has 531,000 followers, recently uploaded images from Lake Rotoiti on the West Coast and Lindis Pass in Central Otago, which are not typical tourism destinations.
Simon Milne, professor of tourism at the Auckland University of Technology, said New Zealand was a world-leader in selling itself online. This had benefited isolated regions.
"It's a really good way to market," he said.
"There's been a focus, for example, on bringing high profile Chinese visitors to the country. They will travel around the South Island and tweet as they go."
While the picturesque locales of South Canterbury and North Otago flourished, other areas struggled.
Auckland and Northland had just 2 and 1 per cent growth in guest nights respectively. Taupo and Ruapehu had consecutive years of low growth.
For the first time in nearly four years, Auckland's share of monthly guest nights nationwide dipped below 20 per cent, while Canterbury's rose to 13.2 per cent – the highest figure since the earthquakes.
Milne said that even though the South was growing faster, it was not a simple winner and loser equation. Spreading the tourism load throughout the country would benefit everyone, he said.
While Christchurch had yet to return to pre-earthquake levels, strong growth elsewhere in the South had been an immeasurable benefit, Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Vic Allen said.