Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Tourist industry in damage control after earthquakes

Tourism operators such as Kaikoura Whalewatch have been affected by the earthquakes.
Tourism operators such as Kaikoura Whalewatch have been affected by the earthquakes.

New Zealand's booming tourism industry is at risk of being harmed by the South Island earthquakes, forcing the government and operators into damage control in overseas markets.

Prime Minister John Key and tourism organisations say there is a risk overseas markets will get the wrong idea about the size of the area affected.

One Chinese inbound operator said there had been a lot of discussion about the earthquakes at a travel trade event in Shanghai yesterday but she had not been told of any cancellations from groups or individuals.

The Chinese market grew at nearly 24 per cent to more than 400,000 in the last year but is susceptible to shocks such as natural disasters and terrorism, which had deterred tourists from China visiting Europe in the last 12 months.

China Travel Services founder Lisa Li said because there wasn't a high death toll from this week's quakes she did not think visitors would be put off.

Her firm had posted video on social media showing tourists continuing to enjoy their holidays.

Campervan rental company Tourism Holdings said it was helping re-route visitors around the affected area.

"The industry appears very aligned, that we are open for business across the country,'' said Tourism Holdings chief executive Grant Webster.

''Every destination in the world has its own idiosyncrasies and the feedback I have heard from the team talking to customers on the ground is that even those trapped in Kaikoura are looking to carry on as normal.''

Tourism Export Council chief executive Lesley Immink said while the China market ''took a big gulp",' she had heard no reports of cancellations.

''The positive stories about how New Zealand deals with adversity far outweigh the negative ones.''

There were other parts of the world that suffered from disasters on a far more frequent basis than New Zealand.

The positive stories about how New Zealand deals with adversity far outweigh the negative ones.
Lesley Immink, CEO Tourism Export Council

Tourism New Zealand is charged with marketing the country overseas and said its current focus was on working alongside other agencies and the industry to get accurate information about the current situation in New Zealand, out to trade partners.

''We want people to understand that much of New Zealand is unaffected by the recent quakes and that there are many alternatives available to people who wish to travel here, but have concerns,'' said spokeswoman Deborah Gray.

''In the coming weeks we will look at whether specific campaigns are needed in response to this week's events.''

Prime Minister John Key said the risk was serious.

''The thing I don't like about it is these images were all around the world, we did quite a bit of international media, people cut off your coverage, people just worry about earthquakes," Key, who is also Tourism Minister, told TVNZ's Breakfast.

"We need to reassure people that the quality of our buildings is very high, truthfully still, the probability of an earthquake is very low, and we're good at handling that."

The way the country handled and coped with tourists after disasters was critically important, Key said.

We need to reassure people that the quality of our buildings is very high, truthfully still, the probability of an earthquake is very low, and we're good at handling that.
John Key

John Key and Gerry Brownlee on their way to Kaikoura to inspect damage from the earthquake.
John Key and Gerry Brownlee on their way to Kaikoura to inspect damage from the earthquake.

Operations such as Kaikoura's Whale Watch and Hamner Springs' thermal attractions had been affected along with road and rail transport in the upper South Island.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said that after the Christchurch earthquakes, even regions that hadn't been directly impacted suffered a significant drop-off in visitors.

''We don't want a repeat of that," Roberts said. "Travel to North Canterbury is not currently advisable, but for Christchurch and elsewhere we really hope people continue to travel for business and leisure."

A number of visitors are currently stuck in Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs and are being helped by local tourism businesses. Tour operators are busy rearranging itineraries for groups that were due in the area.

Economists at the ASB said given the growing importance of tourism to the NZ economy, there was a risk the latest earthquake could adversely impact visitor arrivals.

''However, looking at the 2010/11 earthquakes, the long-term impact appears to be limited,' the economists said.

While there was a steep decline in the immediate aftermath, the long-term trend resumed roughly a year later - but with a big Rugby World Cup boost in the interim - the Canterbury earthquakes were very high profile through the large death toll and damage they caused.

''The latest earthquakes have been tragic, but are unlikely to get as much global attention. Any impact on visitor arrivals is likely to be small in comparison, though immediately-affected areas (Wellington through to North Canterbury) are likely to see reduced visitors to varying extents,'' the ASB said.


Big earner

For the year ended March 2016

• Total tourism expenditure was $34.7 billion, an increase of 12.2 percent from the previous year.

• International tourism expenditure increased 17.1 percent ($1.7 billion) to $11.8 billion, and contributed 17.4 percent to New Zealand's total exports of goods and services.

• Domestic tourism expenditure increased 7.4 percent ($1.4 billion) to $20.2 billion.

• Tourism generated a direct contribution to GDP of $12.9 billion, or 5.6 percent of GDP.

•The indirect value added of industries supporting tourism generated an additional $9.8 billion for tourism, or 4.3 percent of GDP.

•188,136 people were directly employed in tourism (7.5 percent of the total number of people employed in New Zealand).

• Tourists generated $2.8 billion in goods and services tax (GST) revenue.

(Source: Tourism Satellite Account 2016, Statistics New Zealand)

- NZ Herald

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