Chinese tourism market ripe for the picking

By Ben Chapman-Smith

China is now our third-largest tourist market and just shy of the $568 million spent by visitors from the UK. Photo / NZH
China is now our third-largest tourist market and just shy of the $568 million spent by visitors from the UK. Photo / NZH

With China now one of New Zealand largest tourism markets, it is more important than ever that we lift the quality of holiday experiences being offered to Chinese visitors, says Tourism New Zealand.

Survey findings released earlier this week showed Chinese visitor expenditure surged 27 per cent to $522 million in the year to June 2012, overtaking the United States.

And the Government had set an ambitious target of growing the value of Chinese tourism to New Zealand by 60 per cent between now and 2015.

China had become New Zealand's fourth largest visitor market, meaning New Zealand needed to enhance its holiday experience for Chinese visitors, said Tourism New Zealand's general manager of Asia markets Tony Everitt.

"There are a range of things we can do to encourage Chinese visitors to travel here, from providing the variety of quality tourism products to meet the different needs of Chinese travellers from group tours to individual travellers, through to making it easier to plan and book their holiday."

The Tourism Industry Association (TIA) recently sent Cultural Briefs to all its members, offering them tips for dealing with the Chinese market, said chief executive Martin Snedden.

The briefs would also help members develop products that would appeal to the Chinese market.

"Some operators are already offering Mandarin speakers among their staff, hotels are including Chinese choices in their breakfast menus, and holiday parks including rice cookers in their kitchens," Snedden said.

"But many operators are still in the early stages of learning to host this valuable market."

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's International Visitor Survey, Chinese visitor numbers swelled from 132,000 in the year to June 2011, to 175,000 in the year to June 2012.

China was just shy of the $568 million spent by visitors from the UK and would soon overtake Australia.

Everitt said sustained growth in Chinese visitor arrivals since 2011 was a result of China's continued economic strength, growing middle-class, and new direct air routes linking Asia with New Zealand.

A strong campaign by Tourism NZ was underpinned by trade development programmes and work to provide tailored packages for Chinese travellers, he said.

Research by Tourism NZ showed that 69 per cent of Chinese visitors came on holiday, 14 per cent to visit friends or relatives, and 8 per cent for business. Other reasons included education and conferences.

Most holiday visitors from China travelled to New Zealand with organised group tours because travellers felt more comfortable being on a pre-arranged programme given uncertainties with language, Everitt said.

But he added that there was increasing interest from independent travellers, families and small groups.

The challenge was to target the so-called "Free Independent Travellers" and single destination New Zealand group travellers who stayed longer and had time to do more while they are here, he said.

Independent travellers tended to stay in New Zealand longer than tour group tourists and do an average 13 more activities while here, the research showed.

Those tourists were also likely to visit an average five more regions than tourists travelling in groups.

Research also showed that involvement in activities made up 35 per cent of overall satisfaction for Chinese visitors, he said.

"However with a shorter average stay and greater likelihood of visiting on a guided tour they don't have the time to experience the range of activities we offer."

Everitt said "it is essential we take actions to increase visitor days as well as visitor arrivals".

Alastair Stewart, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment communications advisor, said tourism was a core part of the NZ Inc China Strategy, which set an aim to grow Chinese tourism by 60 per cent on 2010 figures.

The Government expected average annual growth of 8.4 per cent between 2010 and 2016, increasing visitor arrivals to around 180,000 per year.

Stewart said the Government had negotiated new air services agreement with the Chinese Government, effectively tripling the number of flights that airlines of the two countries may operate.

The opening of four Visa Acceptance Centres last year - in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong - would help make it easier for customers to travel here.

New Zealand's annual Visitor Experience Monitor (VEM) indicated Chinese visitors had a high level of satisfaction, rating their holidays 8.8 or of 10 on average.

Everitt said the VEM showed we could improve in the area of food and beverage, which rated 8.1 out of 10.

Snedden said New Zealand needed to keep developing products that appealed to Chinese tastes, and keep working in the market to ensure New Zealand was "top of mind" as a holiday destination.

"Direct air links are crucial to growing any market, so more airline interest would also be valuable."

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