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Much of the attraction to New Zealand for international tourists was its natural landscape.Much of the attraction to New Zealand for international tourists was its natural landscape.

The tourist image of New Zealand, with its "100% Pure" marketing slogan, is deeply linked to the natural environment and sustainability. But it turns out that isn't just window dressing.

Most countries are trying to attract as many international tourists as possible, but Tourism NZ chief executive Kevin Bowler actually wouldn't mind if the growth rate of arrivals slowed, as long as their onshore spending continued to increase rapidly.

"In a way it is growing faster than we really want, " he said of a 30 per cent rise in the number of Chinese tourists to 315, 000 over the last 12 months. "It is probably more sustainable and more manageable to be growing at a rate half of what we are currently growing."

Natural attractions such as Milford Sound are a big reason why tourists go to New Zealand.

Tourism NZ, which in most cases competes against rather than co-operates with Tourism Australia, has long been working hard to attract high-yielding visitors. That strategy is paying dividends.

New Zealand overall reported a 7 per cent rise in international arrivals to 3 million, but a 28 per cent jump in their spending to $NZ9 billion ($8 billion) excluding airfares in the 12 months ended June. That compares with a 7 per cent rise in international visitors to Australia to 6.6 million but just a 10 per cent rise in spending to $33.4 billion over the same period.

Tourism NZ has a focused team working on luring premium travellers to help maximise the economic benefits while minimising the footprint on the ground. Tourism Australia is looking to put together more funding and resources to focus on high-yielding travellers from the US, China and Brazil, but tourism industry players say Tourism NZ is well ahead of its Aussie rival on this front.

Natural attractions such as Milford Sound are a big reason why tourists go to New Zealand. New Zealand attracts tourists in large part due to its natural beauty. Photo: Ben Long

And in a sign of just how seriously tourism is considered as an economic driver in New Zealand – particularly as the milk price falls – it is notable that Prime Minister John Key personally oversees the tourism portfolio.

"It is close to dairy [in importance], " Mr Bowler said of the economic contribution. "It is definitely seen by our political leaders as an important industry."

One of the challenges for Tourism NZ is a huge number of arrivals over the peak summer period from January to March, but far fewer throughout the rest of the year.

"We are out of capacity over our summer at the moment, " Mr Bowler said. "About 80 per cent of our entire focus will now be on growing shoulder-season travel. The problem is [that] there is a real lag on hotel construction. So we are probably three years away from meeting today's demand by way of hotels."

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said the airline is also conscious of the problem and working to market seats harder during the shoulder seasons as part of its broader sustainability program launched in Auckland this week.

"What we don't want over the next five to 10 years is to have a great economic win but a social and an environmental negative [from tourism], " he said. "So there are conversations going on quite consciously saying we want to manage the shape of that from where that is going. We have this massive peak over the summer period. That creates more pressure in the system. We want to distil that out over the full year."

Mr Bowler much of the attraction to New Zealand for international tourists was its natural landscape and the environment, and it was important to ensure the brand image remained the reality.

"Unquestionably the most powerful thing that New Zealand offers in the world in terms of reasons to visit is the landscape, scenery and environment, " he said. "While they will visit and discover activities and culture and people, the thing that gets on the short list is landscape. We don't have a built environment like a Paris or a London. We are reliant on those images of places like Queenstown. People say, 'Wow, I really want to see that.' Then they discover all of the other things."

Source: www.smh.com.au
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