Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Tightly controlled Chinese visitor market under spotlight

Martin Snedden says the case of a rogue travel operator appears to be isolated. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Martin Snedden says the case of a rogue travel operator appears to be isolated. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Tourism groups are looking at ways to reform the tightly controlled Chinese visitor market one industry leader says is failing to deliver the benefits it should.

Just under 200,000 Chinese visited New Zealand last year but many are on short trips added on to visits to Australia.

Traditionally "dual destination" visitors spend less here.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Martin Snedden said tightly controlled "shopping trips" were not benefiting New Zealand tourism operators or the visitors themselves.

"A lot of the revenue is siphoned off before the visitor gets to New Zealand."

Snedden has been in the job since the middle of last year and said he was shocked by the system which stemmed from how difficult it is to get a visa to visit this country.

"The approved destination status scheme allows certain agents in China to guarantee visas and they do that knowing there's going to be a pre-approved itinerary ... the visitor is told where they're going, where they're going to stay, how they're going to be transported and where they're going to shop. The agents that organise this totally control the visit."

Short shopping trips to Auckland and Rotorua had boosted the figures.

"Sure it's good for our visitor numbers but it's not good for the revenue we're driving from it and the quality of the experience that Chinese visitors are getting."

It was a complex and difficult challenge and a report by government agency Tourism New Zealand and the industry aimed at tackling the problem was due to be made public soon.

"One of the key activities that will come out of that is the realisation that if we're going to succeed with China a strong starting point is in China itself - what we're doing on the ground is really important."

Snedden said the case of the rogue Chinese travel operator who charged a group of tourists to take them to the City Mission and other free attractions appeared to be isolated and did not appear to warrant any more regulation.

The Chinese tourist victims themselves and the local Chinese community had identified the operator and naming and shaming was the best tactic.

"These are going to be the best sort of protection going forward."

The Qualmark approval system provided some guarantees for tourists although Snedden did not know how much notice travellers took of it.

"Do you really want to put more regulation in place? It's a kneejerk reaction to deal with one problem but is it a right thing across the board in a general sense?" he said.

"As that [self policing] becomes more and more the norm for visitors that in itself is going to provide growing protection against rogue operators. It will forewarn visitors about what to look out for and to avoid."

Tourism NZ says the City Mission dinner incident was the first incident of its type to come to its attention.

"Tourism New Zealand is responsible for marketing New Zealand internationally as a visitor destination and is always disappointed to hear of tourists who have had a negative experience. But we don't believe this incident indicates a major issue," a spokesman said.

In every major city and tourism destination in the world you get people approaching tourists on the street offering cheap deals.

"It's not something that we are used to having happen in New Zealand, but as long as the person making the offer doesn't misrepresent themselves or the service provided, it is probably legal," the spokesman said.

As part of the approved destination status rules, tour operators must provide a good quality experience for the Chinese visitors.

Although City Mission dinner tour operator "Lucky Jade" was not an approved operator, those that are can have their licences suspended for breaches. The code states that "charges for services or entrance to attractions, activities, venues or other places which are free of charge" is strictly prohibited.

ADS-approved itineraries often include organised visits to locations such as Government Gardens in Rotorua or the Botanical Gardens in Hamilton.

- NZ Herald

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