A new breed of more independent Chinese tourists is helping drive an explosion in the number of international visitors staying in New Zealand motels.
Traditionally, motels have attracted far less of the international tourist trade than other accommodation options, with about two-thirds of motel guests being Kiwis, in part because the concept of holiday accommodation with its own full kitchen is almost unknown outside Australia and New Zealand.
However, Statistics New Zealand's November accommodation survey results, published today, showed the sixth month in a row of 20 percent-plus growth in international guest nights in motels versus the same month a year earlier.
In November, some 378,000 of the total 1.6 million nights spent in New Zealand by international visitors were spent in motels, an increase of 29 percent on November 2015. The total international visitor number for the month was also another record, and up 5.1 percent on the previous November, reflecting New Zealand's ongoing international tourism boom.
Tourism bodies put the trend to motel use down to two main factors: international tourists "discovering" the category and efforts to encourage travel to a wider range of regional destinations.
"If you're successful in getting international travellers exploring every part of the country, then you would expect to see that motels doing well," said Chris Roberts, head of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, an industry umbrella body. "Outside the main centres, there are plenty of sizeable New Zealand towns that don't have hotels", the traditional pied-a-terre for the visiting international tourist.
Roberts said there was also a notable increase in the use of holiday parks by international tourists, with many such parks now investing in more motel-style accommodation as well as the traditional campground cabins, campervan and tent sites.
"It seems to suggest that the international traveller is discovering the motel product, which is reasonably unique to New Zealand," said Roberts.
Rachael Shadbolt, the general manager for communications at Hospitality New Zealand said there was also some evidence in the November figures suggesting some tourists may have changed their plans in November because of the Kaikoura earthquake's disruption to driving around the South Island.
The official statistics showed an unsurprising collapse in the number of guest nights spent in Kaikoura, at 17,000 for the month, compared with 30,000 in November 2015, because of the Nov. 14 quake, whose impact is expected to show again in December guest night figures. The impact was less dramatic in the neighbouring Hurunui district, which includes the Hanmer Springs resort town and also suffered quake effects. Hurunui guest nights were down 12 percent for November, the largest fall in almost three years.
However, the wider trend to more international travellers, especially Asian people, staying in motels was a phenomenon that motel owners were starting to notice, said Shadbolt.
The growing number of independent Chinese tourists was a major change from "the coach tours of old, that filled hotels".
"The Chinese market is maturing and there are a lot more free, independent travellers," she said. "Motel members are noting a lot more Asian customers rolling through the gate."
Not only was it a "different holiday experience", but it often seemed to suit families seeing the country while visiting international students studying in New Zealand.