Stay in NZ, urges tourism industry

By Gill South

Fighting for a bigger slice of the New Zealand tourist dollar is spreading to the home front, with domestic travellers now increasingly targeted by tourism operators wary of their businesses becoming too dependent on overseas visitors.

A new, big push is on to convince Kiwis to stop spending their money on the Gold Coast and Fiji, and start seeing some of the sights closer to home.

New local travel magazine Weekend is targeting Aucklanders and online marketplace Trade Me has this month made a foray into the tourism sector with its "Travelbug" service.

Trade Me founder Sam Morgan told the Herald on Sunday the market for domestic travel had been "completely neglected".

"There is no one building a strong website that caters to domestic tourists that focuses on New Zealanders."

He says Travelbug will be "perfect for occasions such as finding accommodation if you are going to a wedding in Dunedin".

Morgan says he is targeting "everyday New Zealanders" wanting to book their accommodation, and Trade Me plans to expand Travelbug into other areas, including holiday home rental and tourist activities.

Weekend magazine, arriving in 45,000 Auckland letterboxes this weekend and available at some retail outlets, is presenting mainly NZ attractions to Aucklanders, says Michael Taillie, managing director of People Publishing. "It is for Aucklanders, giving them ideas of things they can do on the weekend around Auckland, outside Auckland and offshore."

The magazine will show Aucklanders it's not that hard to take the car to Waiheke for a weekend, and lay out the costs for local tourists who might need a prod.

"If we can break down some of these barriers, that's half of it, says Taillie. "The other half is just because tourists like it does not mean you won't. Waitomo Caves, for instance, people think is a tourism thing.

"The reason tourists like them is because they are fantastic."

Domestic tourism is valuable. In the year to March 2007, domestic travel spending by NZ residents totalled $7.62 billion (including transport costs), an increase of 9.1 per cent on the year before.

NZ tourism operators were urged at the recent Tourism Industry conference to start "packaging" attractive breaks to the local population just as they do for international visitors.

New Zealanders are becoming increasingly fond of such packages for their overseas travel.

Paul Davis, chief executive of Latitude Nelson, the area's regional tourism body, says it is more expensive for the council-funded body to market to New Zealanders than to internationals.

While wholesalers overseas are happy to package together trips to New Zealand and market them, the regional tourism bodies in NZ have to do direct marketing themselves, for which they have limited resources.

Latitude Nelson has invested in some spring package promotions in a bid to lure Wellingtonians across from the North Island.

"People come to New Zealand from all over the world, it's getting that same interest level across to New Zealanders," says Davis.

"It's also about convincing New Zealanders that other parts of NZ are not the same as where they live.

"There's an assumption New Zealand is pretty generic and it's not - it's different from region to region."

Domestic travel had been like the "red-haired step-child" of the industry, says Peter Blackwell, general manager of AA Tourism Services, who was behind the AA's successful "101 Must Do's" ad campaign.

He says packages don't suit a lot of New Zealanders who prefer "a-la-carte travel options" because they will often be going to a town and stay with friends or family, so can't take up the option of a flight/car/transfer package.

Top-end destinations such as Huka Lodge are more likely to offer packages, says Blackwell.

Destination Queenstown's CEO, David Kennedy, says the trend is for people to travel to next-door regions because they are a drive away "but getting New Zealanders to travel away from their home regions is difficult".

"Milford Sound is the eighth wonder of the world but have [most] New Zealanders seen it?" he asks.

The tourism industry talks about encouraging local tourists to come in the "shoulder season" when prices are more reasonable. But New Zealand is having more luck getting Australians to travel our country than New Zealanders, say industry experts.

At the moment, domestic tourism is growing by 1 to 1.5 per cent a year while international tourism is growing by 4 per cent, says Ministry of Tourism general manager Ray Salter.

The temptation to travel overseas is the same in the UK and Australia.

"We don't have five-day holiday in Auckland packages with four attractions for $995 the way they do to the Gold Coast," he says.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Fiona Luhrs would like to see more domestic tourists and more internationals.

While domestic tourism is generating $2 billion more than international, the fact domestic is growing by just 1 to 1.5 per cent is not great. "It has gone down as a result of low-cost carriers across the Tasman and to the Pacific," says Luhrs.

The NZ dollar has also contributed to overseas travel. In May the number of Kiwis going overseas was up 16 per cent - a huge jump.

But Luhrs believes people will tire of the Gold Coast. "How many times do you want to go there, surely it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There needs to be packages. When I go overseas it's easy for me to go on to the web to get flight transfers. We've not been able to do that in New Zealand."

The more competitive airline situation, since the arrival of Pacific Blue, may bring in new domestic travellers.

Pacific Blue's general manager (commercial), Adrian Hamilton-Mann, says: "In terms of domestic tourism, until now New Zealanders haven't had the choice of an airline like Pacific Blue that offers low fares on a consistent basis. We believe Kiwis will fly more often within New Zealand now."

Some of the more lateral-thinking tourism operators are committed to attracting more local tourists.

Neil Geddes is managing director of Stray Travel and innovative van hire company Spaceships, which he says is being used by a growing number of Kiwis. "New Zealanders still hugely undervalue what is available in New Zealand." Geddes says it is "very easy for people to be tempted" by the price-driven Gold Coast and Kiwi tour operators aren't offering that much competition.

"There are a lot of opportunities to promote things but a lack of banner promotion and big discounts," he says. "If anything, it is not very good at all, it is woeful."

Neill and Ceillhe Sperath, directors of the T.I.M.E Unlimited tour business, have set up Kiwi Backyard Breaks.

They take mainly New Zealand tourists to do things they might not have had the opportunity to do in their usual daily life. They take them to a marae to introduce them to Maori culture, or go on a night zoo safari. They also offer kayak fishing and kite fishing tours.

Sperath says: "German tourists say: 'I've never seen anything like this'.

"Kiwis are also fascinated but tend to want to get into it and find out more about it so they could do it again themselves."

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