Bernard Hickey 's Opinion

Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey: Tourism slow on China potential

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New Zealand needs to retool its tourism sector including obtaining visas for independent Chinese national travellers easier. Photo / NZ Herald
New Zealand needs to retool its tourism sector including obtaining visas for independent Chinese national travellers easier. Photo / NZ Herald

Ni hao. Huan ying, huan ying! This is a phrase every New Zealand tourism business should commit to memory. It is Chinese for hello and a very sincere welcome.

It's a phrase that should be built into business plans.

The growth in numbers of Chinese tourists to New Zealand in the past year has been stunning, thanks largely to the daily flights by China Southern from Guangzhou in the south of China. Short-term visitor arrivals rose 39.2 per cent to 191,488 in the year to October. That has made China the third-largest contributor of tourists to New Zealand after Australia and Britain, and ahead of the United States.

Chinese tourism is forecast to surpass British tourism next year and more than double by 2018, according to NZIER.

The trouble is Chinese tourists spend much less per night and spend fewer nights here than British, German or American tourists. About two-thirds travel in tour groups run by Chinese companies that visit Chinese-owned stores.

NZIER also forecast the number of British, German and American tourists to fall over the next six years because of their weak economies and the strong NZ dollar. Total spending from these markets is forecast to fall from about $2 billion a year in 2005 to almost $1 billion by 2018.

Meanwhile, Chinese spending is expected to rise to $680 million from $220 million over the same period. That's great, but it obviously doesn't make up for the fall in traditional markets.

Auckland Airport and the Tourism Industry Association put out an excellent paper in September about the need for a change in thinking on the China market. Just last week, Auckland Airport and Tourism NZ signed a memorandum of understanding with China Southern to improve links. It was signed during a special trip to New Zealand by China Southern's executive team and 250 Chinese travel agents on one of its Airbus 380s.

New Zealand needs to retool its tourism sector in the same way it retooled farming through the 1970s, 80s and 90s after Britain joined the European Union. It needs to provide the sort of high-value, high-excitement luxury travel on offer to British, American and German tourists.

Obtaining visas for independent travellers from China will have to be easier. Signs and public announcements will have to be in Chinese as well as English. Staff in restaurants, duty-free stores and hotels will have to learn Chinese.

I've said it before, but why isn't New Zealand making Chinese its third language and teaching it more widely in schools? We now have a major base of Chinese speakers to help us do that.

Auckland Airport got the ball rolling this week by including Chinese in its public announcements to travellers.

Perhaps, collectively, New Zealand needs to learn how to say "Ni hao, huan ying, huan ying", as well as "Haere ra and thanks for the dough".


bernard.hickey@interest.co.nz

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Bernard Hickey

Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News, a Wellington-based political and economic subscription news email service. He also writes for Interest.co.nz and appears regularly on Radio New Zealand, Radio Live, TVNZ and TV3. He has been a financial journalist for 25 years, having worked for Reuters, the Financial Times Group and Fairfax Media.

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