China Southern Airlines says New Zealand should be doing more for the growing number of Chinese tourists coming here. The airline has been flying here since 2011. Last year it carried 61,000 passengers from China.
Its recently appointed general manager in New Zealand Mike Ma says at times there have not been enough interpreters in Auckland and hotel and restaurant space was sometimes stretched during the peak summer tourist season from Christmas to March, including Chinese New Year.
Ma said the airline wanted to bring more independent travellers to New Zealand but they were interested in a wider range of activities than traditional shopping holidays. Golf, harbour cruising and kayaking were becoming increasingly popular.
"For that I think we must strengthen co-operation with many people, including the Government, travel agents, airports, [and] Chambers of Commerce."
The airline flies a near-new Airbus A330-200 from Auckland to Guangzhou in southern China. It started flying three times a week in April, 2011 but expanded to daily flights in November that year. It says its aircraft have been about 80 per cent full but wants to raise its profile in New Zealand to boost that and improve yield.
"We have only been in New Zealand less than two years and our brand must become much better known and trusted by New Zealand people," Ma says.
He says the airline is trying to boost yield by filling its premium cabins. It has first, business and economy classes on its New Zealand route and about 80 per cent of those on board both ways are from China. Last year it launched connecting flights to European destinations in its own version of the Kangaroo route north.
The airline's general manager for Australia and New Zealand, Henry He, says new carriers struggle for recognition against strong incumbent national carriers wherever they fly, and this country is no exception.
It is possible China Southern could upgrade the aircraft from a 217-seat A330-200 to a 280-seat A330-300 over the peak season.
He says the airline is hopeful transit visa regulations will be relaxed later this year to allow New Zealanders travelling through Guangzhou to stay for 72 hours to match rules in Shanghai and Beijing. At present transit visas allow a 24-hour stay in the city.
Late last year, China Southern signed a memorandum of understanding with Tourism NZ and Auckland Airport that sets out initiatives and a commitment to increase international tourism and trade potential for both countries. The agreement was signed ahead of a gathering of leading travel agents mainly from China, airline executives and business leaders in Auckland, which the airline says emphasises the importance of the New Zealand market.
During the five-day visit arranged by Auckland Airport and supported by other tourist agencies they sampled some North Island attractions.
China Southern's president and chief executive, Tan Wan Geng, said at that time what he had experienced strengthened his confidence in the Auckland service, and agents - who sell around 90 per cent of the airline's tickets - would be motivated to sell the route harder. China Southern is the world's third largest airline measured by passengers carried and Asia's largest airline in both fleet size and passengers and after consolidating its home network is aggressively expanding around the world. It now flies to about 200 destinations.