Google's New Zealand boss says most of the burgeoning global interest in New Zealand as a destination is being captured by offshore companies.

Stephanie Davis took over as head of the web giant's New Zealand operation last April and sees vast untapped potential in the industry here.

"The demand is higher than any top destination in the world -- it's at the top of the list," she says.

"People are raising their hands saying, 'I'm interested in coming to New Zealand'. But today, overwhelmingly, those clicks are going to non-New Zealand companies."


Davis is urging the industry to start paying attention to the mounds of data on where people are searching from, where they're wanting to go, and what activities they want to do when they get here.

"We process billions of queries every day. So we can see things like, are people more or less interested in visiting New Zealand than they were last year? Where is that interest coming from? What types of devices are they searching on and what does that mean in terms of the outcome?"

A huge amount can be gleaned from that data, she says, and it could help with future infrastructure development, or allocating resources to meet tourist demand.

"We see some generalisations play out in the data. For example, we see that those making a query from France are far more likely to search for restaurants in advance of coming to New Zealand," she says.

"We see those coming and visiting from the UK are far more likely to search for pubs that they may want to visit while they're here. So you start taking these types of holidays, the cities that they're interested in, what they may want to do, and you can see where we could start thinking about opportunities by region. And also the time of year that they're making the search."

Davis says some of the overseas interest could be diverted to regions which need a boost in tourist numbers, while moving it away from areas like Queenstown, should its infrastructure become overwhelmed.

"It could mean there is a way we could, if we were converting people who are raising their hands, get them to come to do things in a region of New Zealand that wouldn't stress the infrastructure or the environment as much.

"So let's take the French - restaurants, wine regions when they search - could we work together to use this data, to use these insights, to put things together that would attract people or convert people to certain regions and activities at this time of year when Queenstown is so crowded?"

Most people - about 60 per cent - are still searching for package holidays when researching trips to New Zealand, as opposed to other means of travel such as cruises, camping or holiday rentals.

This is particularly true of potential visitors from Asia and Europe, but less so for visitors from the US and Australia, who are more keen on cruises.

"You have really great travel companies here on the ground that provide travel packages for Kiwis travelling places, and also things and activities to do once tourists are here on the ground. But what about reaching them in those markets before they get here?" asks Davis.

Generally, she says New Zealand businesses lag behind their overseas counterparts by a couple of years in terms of digitising their operations.

"When I state that it's a couple of years behind, I don't mean that negatively. In fact I think it is indicative of great opportunity," she says.

Davis is originally from Georgia in the United States and has worked for Google for the past 10 years.

She previously headed the travel side of Google's business, making her the top choice to take on the New Zealand role.

Kiwis are quite advanced - 80 per cent smartphone penetration in the market, quite innovative - and we also see a large opportunity for companies here to do more export, to be even more profitable than they are today.


She presides over a team of 25 in Google's swish, new-age office on the 27th floor of the PwC building in downtown Auckland

The primary focus for the New Zealand side of the operation is working with marketers and advertisers to beef up their online presence.

"We work with publishers in the market, helping them and partnering with them in terms of better monetising content. We also work with businesses of all sizes with cloud computing, not just storing their data but also helping them to make the most of the data that they have," she says.

"New Zealand is very important to Google. I think it's important to state that it's not all about size when we think about our markets. Kiwis are quite advanced - 80 per cent smartphone penetration in the market, quite innovative - and we also see a large opportunity for companies here to do more export, to be even more profitable than they are today."

No change on tax

Google is one of 20 companies which - as the Herald revealed in March - pay virtually no income tax, despite collectively recording billions of dollars in annual sales to Kiwi consumers.

The internet services and search provider reported $14.9m in revenue in this country but a cost of goods charge of $14.4m - 97 per cent of revenue. That left it with profit before tax of just $521,795 and an income tax bill of $361,542.

Davis empathises with the concerns that raises, but says it isn't up to Google to change the way it pays tax.

"We pay our tax legally today in New Zealand and in every country that we operate in. We pay our tax to be competitive so we will change tax payment when the Government - if the Government - were to ask," she says.

"We do believe that it's best handled at the OECD level, we do believe in transparency and a simplified and more transparent process."

What Kiwis Googled in 2016

Top Searches

1. Geonet

2. Olympics

3. US election

4. Euro 2016

5. Earthquake NZ

6. Pokemon Go

7. Slitherio

8. Donald Trump

9. David Bowie

10. Royal Road

Stephanie Davis

Job Title:

Country Director, NZ

Last Film:

La La Land

Last Book:

Penguin History of New Zealand

Last Holiday

• Before Moving to NZ: Greece

• Since Moving to NZ: South Island campervan trip


Husband Jack, with lots of family and friends visiting