Tourism New Zealand has signed a memorandum of understanding with Chinese travel giant Ctrip to support the growth of customised travel to this country.

There has been a surge of interest in tailor-made travel to New Zealand from China, this country's second largest source of visitors.

"Tailor-made or customised travel is a growing trend in China due to an increasing demand for in-depth travel by consumers who don't have the time to plan their own itinerary but are willing to pay for a quality experience," said Gregg Wafelbakker, Tourism New Zealand General Manager - Asia.

"Tailor-made travel gives Chinese independent travellers the structure of an organised tour with the freedom to experience more of what New Zealand has to offer."

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A new Ctrip "New Zealand Specialist and Customized Travel" training programme has also been launched.

Ctrip is the largest online travel agent in Asia and China, with a market capitalisation of roughly US$25b. In 2016, it bought booking site Skyscanner and has more than 30,000 staff around the world.​

New Zealand leads the trend of customised travel growth at Ctrip. According to Ctrip, in the first half of this year, total customised tour queries increased by 120 per cent, but queries relating specifically to New Zealand customised tours rose by 150 per cent.

The relationship between Tourism New Zealand and Shanghai-based Ctrip has huge value to the New Zealand tourism sector, said Wafelbakker.​

Tailor-made and customised travel is a significant shift from the large group tours traditionally seen from the China market. Tour groups now make up just 35 per cent of the 449,000 Chinese visitors who came here in the year to June, down from 39 per cent in 2017. Free and independent travellers (FIT) now make up 39 per cent of Chinese visitors, up from 32 per cent last year.

Ctrip Customized Travel chief executive Xu Zhiyun said the partnership with Tourism New Zealand would help to highlight the range of attractions and regions this country had to offer.

"We will work with Tourism New Zealand to empower consultants through training and resources from official channels, presenting New Zealand's diverse resources through different routes."

Those who take part in the training programme will receive a dual certification from both the Ctrip Institute of Travel Business and Tourism New Zealand. The main target customer groups for the project are family trips and honeymooners.

Chinese visitors have spent more than $1.66 billion in New Zealand over the past year. This is forecast to reach $3.06b a year by 2024.

The memorandum follows the signing of the renewed strategic co-operation agreement between Tourism New Zealand and Ctrip this July, ahead of the 2019 China New Zealand Year of Tourism.