15 Jan 2019

China tourism partnership provides chance 'to turn up the volume'

3:22 pm on 15 January 2019

The government wants to capitalise on the boom in one of our largest visitor markets by joining forces with China to promote tourism between the two countries.

A hiking girl in new zealand

Photo: 123rf.com

The 2019 China New Zealand Year of Tourism was signed in 2017 in a bid to build relationships, improve marketing and economic ties.

When CTS Tours managing director Lisa Li started a New Zealand branch in 2000, China wasn't a destination for many Kiwis.

Nor was Aotearoa a destination for Chinese tourists.

Both countries stood to benefit from the Year of Tourism, a partnership between the New Zealand and Chinese governments, Ms Li said.

"Some people would say probably Year of Tourism is just a slogan, but I really think it's such a good marketing mechanism for both countries because at the end of the day we are only one of the destinations for Chinese to choose to travel."

Government figures show about 450,000 people from China visited last year.

By 2024, that's expected to boom to more than 800,000 arrivals.

Rotorua Canopy Tours general manager Paul Button said the city used to be known for Chinese group tours, but now the market was changing.

"They would travel sort of with that vertical sales model where they'd go to their own restaurants and their own sales areas, but that's really changing because they're getting more confidence as a nation," Mr Button said.

"They've chosen to have more freedom and travel by themselves and to visit a lot of places that a general tourist will visit versus just a bus that you see ripping down the road that doesn't have as much economic benefit to us."

While Chinese tourists represented only a small market for the tour company, he said they were the fastest growing visitor group.

Speaking from Shanghai, Tourism New Zealand Asia general manager Gregg Wafelbakker said China remained an important market.

By 2024, it is predicted to overtake Australia as New Zealand's biggest visitor market by spend, reaching $3.1 billion annually.

The partnership would help lift the profile of tourism and the relationships between the two countries, but it didn't change their focus on the Chinese market, Mr Wafelbakker said.

"It just really provides the opportunity to turn up the volume a little bit.

"We want to see more Chinese people coming to New Zealand, staying longer, visiting more of our regions and spreading the times which they come throughout the year."

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development destination manager Steve Armitage said the partnership would help prepare businesses for the years of growth ahead.

"We need to ensure that experience they're having here is not just the traditional very welcoming one that Kiwis tend to provide, but there is some sort of familiarity or some home comforts ... in terms of how they are being communicated with and that there is that ease of payment and those platforms are there to support the long term experience," Mr Armitage said.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment tourism policy manager Richard Davies said the Chinese visitor boom wasn't going to be claimed as a Year of Tourism coup.

But, he said, there was an opportunity to prepare for the forecast growth.

"We'd like firms and regions to think about what that means for them and how they can set themselves up to make the most of that," Mr Davies said.

He encouraged businesses and communities to check the official webpage cnzyot.govt.nz to see how they can get involved.

The official 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism opening ceremony will be held at Te Papa in Wellington next month.

It coincides with the Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibition, which will see 2300 year old Chinese artefacts on display until April 22.