Floods, earthquakes and tsunami are not enough to keep international tourism buyers from jetting into New Zealand this week for the annual Trenz industry showcase in Queenstown.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said there had been strong interest in the industry conference, with about 300 New Zealand exhibitors and 330 buyers from overseas coming.
Floods in Queensland, the earthquakes in Christchurch and the tsunami in Japan had not had much impact.
"We haven't seen mass cancellations for travel buyers or media out of those areas. So that's heartening," Cossar said. "The proof's in the pudding. It's whether the customers come or not during next visitor season is going to be the telltale sign."
A lot of business was done after Trenz, which is being held in Queenstown until Wednesday.
"This is an entree into the pricing and product opportunities for the next season," he said. "It is often the beginning of discussions that businesses will have."
The industry had seen a tough couple of years on the back of the economic situation overseas, and domestic trade was tight.
"New Zealanders are obviously retiring debt, are watching what they spend and that hasn't gone unnoticed in our industry."
Australian visitors seemed to be not spending as freely or as much as before and with the UK market the exchange rate meant New Zealand was not seen as such good value as had previously been the case.
"As well as that their [UK] economy hasn't really recovered," Cossar said.
It was one of the most dynamic periods of change in Cossar's 20 years' experience in the sector.
"With the advent of online marketing and value-based airlines and just a short lead-in market we just don't get a good look at the future any longer," he said.
Research released by the Ministry of Economic Development last week showed that although international tourist numbers rose slightly to 2.5 million in the year to March, spending fell by $400 million to $5.6 billion.
The 6 per cent drop in spending was matched by a 6 per cent rise in the strength of the dollar on a trade weighted index.
Peter Ellis, tourism research and evaluation manager at the ministry, said international interest in New Zealand was still high and tourists were coming here in near-record numbers.
"This is despite sluggish economies in some of our major markets. But the strong New Zealand dollar is apparently a factor in limiting how much they are willing to spend and how long they stay for," Ellis said.
Inbound Tour Operators Council president Brian Henderson, who is also an exhibitor as chief executive of Auckland-based Tourmasters South Pacific, said Trenz was hugely important for the industry.
"It's our showcase. It's our big opportunity to get time with the buyers and of course being in Queenstown we get to show off one of New Zealand's gems as well."
Air New Zealand deputy chief executive Norm Thompson said a key message to get across was that New Zealand was very much open for business.
"Unfortunately we still have a number of markets that are quite nervous about coming to New Zealand, they think the whole country's been devastated [by the earthquake]," Thompson said.
"The other message we've got to get across is what Christchurch can still offer. It's not a place to totally avoid, there is still tourism infrastructure in Christchurch that is still very much up and operating and going well."
Another key message was that the industry was open throughout the Rugby World Cup.
Some cities that had hosted big sporting events had not capitalised on the investment, Thompson said.
"We don't take our foot off the accelerator, it's the time to really engage further and make sure that we capitalise on that investment and the awareness that Rugby World Cup will bring us."
There were 38 buyers coming from China - a country that would provide huge support to the economy.
"There's a lot of interest in New Zealand and we're certainly going to be ensuring that we capitalise on their time while they're here."By Owen Hembry Email Owen