China is expected to overtake Australia as the biggest tourism market for New Zealand in terms of expenditure within seven years.
With a 14 per cent compound average growth rate, China is reckoned to increase its share of tourism spending in New Zealand from 14 per cent last year to 23.6 per cent in 2021, totaling $2.6 billion, as visitor numbers increase 11.6 per cent, according to a forecast released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment at New Zealand's annual Trenz tourism conference in Rotorua.
Also announced today is the continuation of seasonal direct flights by Taiwanese carrier China Airlines, a leading player in North Asian markets, to Christchurch into the upcoming summer, with three connections a week from Taipei in Taiwan via Sydney. The airline first trialled the Christchurch flights last summer.
The anticipated increase in spending by Chinese tourists is partly driven by a shift to more "free independent travellers", who tend to travel more extensively and stay longer. Meanwhile, Australia will remain the top source of visitors to New Zealand, with a 3 per cent increase annually, said Michael Bird, MBIE's general manager for institutions and system performance.
Chinese tourists are expected to prolong the average length of their stay from 18 days last year to 28 days in 2021 while the Australians will continue to keep their stay as long as 12 days, as they come mainly for family and friends visits.
Meanwhile, Auckland International Airport announced today a $100,000 tourism fund to help boost Asian markets in low seasons.
Each award-winning seasonal tourism offering will receive $25,000 from the fund, which encourages new itineraries tailored to the rise of free independent travellers.
Christchurch International Airport also announced the creation of a "New Horizons Fund", with a $100,000 annual budget to "support a minimum of two South Island tourism operators into the China market each year."
Also announced today at Trenz conference was the renewal of a joint marketing partnership between Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand to spend more than $20 million in the 2016 financial year.
They will each invest more than $10 million over 12 months in cooperative marketing activity in the key markets of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, North America, the United Kingdom and Europe as well as activity in Latin America.
The emerging free independent traveller market in China is heavily influenced by internet and social media as top information-gathering channels for visitors, according to joint research by Auckland Airport and MBIE.
The most high-profile effort was Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand co-hosting China's top reality TV programme "Dad, where are we going?" to film in New Zealand last year, which reached a Chinese audience of 400 million and a further 26 million social media users.