Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Thousands of 'missing' cruise ship passengers in NZ

Cruise arrivals are now New Zealand's third largest holiday market behind Australia and China, with an estimated 267,800 passengers landing here during the 2015-16 cruise season. Photo / iStock
Cruise arrivals are now New Zealand's third largest holiday market behind Australia and China, with an estimated 267,800 passengers landing here during the 2015-16 cruise season. Photo / iStock

The cruise industry says tens of thousands of visitors are missing from New Zealand's official annual tourism statistics, with the result that tourism's value to the economy is understated.

Official visitor counts fail to include as many as 176,000 cruise passengers a year, said Cruise New Zealand.

The government agency responsible for the data also wants improvements.

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Cruise arrivals are now New Zealand's third largest holiday market behind Australia and China, with an estimated 267,800 passengers landing here during the 2015-16 cruise season.

However, official visitor arrival and spending statistics are collected only at New Zealand's international airports, so cruise passengers who arrive and leave on their ships (known as transit passengers) are overlooked, Cruise NZ chairman Kevin O'Sullivan said.

"The irony is that while cruise transit passenger arrivals are excluded from the official count, the New Zealand Customs Service and the Ministry for Primary Industries are charging them the new Border Clearance Levy when they enter and depart New Zealand," he said.

More accurate measurements of the size and value of the cruise sector would assist with local and regional government funding, infrastructure investments and resource management.

Tourism industry organisations are calling on the Government to fully record the cruise sector's contribution to New Zealand's economy.

Other than where they board and leave a cruise ship, transit passengers are like any other visitors to New Zealand and should not be excluded from the official count. Doing so distorts the overall picture of international arrivals and their value.

"Cruise New Zealand has been working on this issue with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. MBIE's recent release of the New Zealand Tourism Dashboard is a significant step forward in the dissemination of tourism statistics, but a sizeable amount of insight is missing due to the non-inclusion of cruise statistics."

Cruise New Zealand's call is being supported by the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIA), the Tourism Export Council of New Zealand and Regional Tourism Organisations New Zealand.

TIA chief executive Chris Roberts said that it was only thanks to research commissioned by Cruise New Zealand that the country knew the cruise sector added $436 million to New Zealand's economy in 2014-15 and supported 8365 jobs.

In the 2015-2016 season, the number of passengers is expected to increase by 33 per cent to 267,800 with 176,000 estimated to be transit passengers.

If Cruise New Zealand did not do its own research, then we as a country and an economy would have no idea of the value of the cruise sector to New Zealand.

"The missing 176,000 is equivalent to all the annual visitors we get from Germany, France, Holland, Spain, Italy and Ireland combined," Roberts said.

Cruise was playing an important part in helping the tourism industry achieve the Tourism 2025 goal of growing annual revenue to $41 billion by 2025.

"Other than where they board and leave a cruise ship, transit passengers are like any other visitors to New Zealand and should not be excluded from the official count. Doing so distorts the overall picture of international arrivals and their value."

Tourism Export Council chief executive Lesley Immink said it was important for regional ports like Tauranga, Napier and Nelson to understand the local impact of the cruise sector.

"If Cruise New Zealand did not do its own research, then we as a country and an economy would have no idea of the value of the cruise sector to New Zealand," Immink said.

Figures out last week showed that for the year ending January total international visitor arrivals increased almost 11 per cent - with the country welcoming more than 3.17 million visitors. For the year ending December 2015 estimated visitor spend was up 31 per cent, reaching $9.7 billion, with holiday visitor's average spend up 11 per cent, to $4000.

MBIE manager of sector trends Peter Ellis said tourist arrivals figures were produced by Statistics New Zealand, and spend estimates by MBIE.

Cruise visitors could not be included in the current official figures for arrivals or spend due to a combination of ``technical and definitional'' issues.

Since 2011 MBIE has been implementing a tourism data improvement programme to inform decision-making for the sector, for government and for the regions. This had resulted in major improvements to estimates of tourist spend, new forecasts methodology, much more credible estimates of regional spend, new methods for estimating convention attendee numbers and spend, and a tourism sectors report in 2014, he said.

Producing an official statistics series for cruise arrivals and spend was planned as part of this programme but ``regrettably has been delayed due to other priorities. ''

The numbers of cruise visitors and their approximate spend were well known.

``Hence there is no real information gap for decision-making purposes but we nevertheless agree an official series is highly desirable.''

- NZ Herald

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