A tourism expert says an app to be launched on Chinese social media platform WeChat is a "timely and important initiative" to stop the falling visitor numbers from China.

New Zealand was among the destinations in the world with the strongest decrease in arrivals of Chinese package tour groups, those from smaller cities and those above 50 years of age, according to a China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) study.

The app, Auckland's first WeChat city experience guide, claims to be the world's first live-chat function that enables Chinese-speaking residents to share local knowledge and experiences with potential visitors in China.

Grand Park Chinese restaurant, a local Chinese favourite for yum cha lunches. Photo / File
Grand Park Chinese restaurant, a local Chinese favourite for yum cha lunches. Photo / File

The app will also allow users to make payments, order food deliveries and book hotels and flights.

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"This is a timely and important initiative. It heightens the ability of Auckland to open up a richer array of experiences for the very important China market," Auckland University of Technology Professor of Tourism and New Zealand Tourism Research Institute director
Simon Milne said.

"This approach reflects the ongoing focus of visitors on wanting to 'get local' and to understand more authentic dimensions of urban visitor experiences," Milne said.

"It also reflects the desire of visitors to hear from locals what are the best things to do, rather than simply relying on corporate advertising."

Avondale Sunday market, a local favourite for fresh produce shopping. Photo / File
Avondale Sunday market, a local favourite for fresh produce shopping. Photo / File

The app was developed by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) to target the China market.

ATEED general manager Steve Armitage said Auckland was the first destination within the network to use locals as advocates to relay visitor information in a real time, live chat environment.

"China is New Zealand's second-largest visitor market, and for Auckland, Chinese visitors are the highest spenders in the visitor economy, contributing more than $960 million in tourism spend annually," Armitage said.

"Auckland is also home to more than 113,000 people who identify as Chinese."

Armitage said the new WeChat mini programme provided a platform for Auckland's Chinese community to share their local knowledge with friends and family back in China.

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More than 300 people have signed up as advocates during the Auckland Lantern Festival.

ATEED said the app would be launched to the mass Chinese market once a local pool of advocates was established and up and running.

Milne said this type of approach had proven to be very successful around the world, not just for the Chinese market.

"We have seen a growth in websites and related apps such as 'spotted by locals' and the 'global greeter network'," he said.

"But NZ remains unrepresented. This initiative by ATEED for the China market is an important step towards filling this particular gap."

The NZ China Travel and Tourism Association welcomed the idea of the new tourism app.

"It would make travellers from China feel warm and welcome when they know they can connect with the locals easily," association chair Simon Cheung said.

COTRI director Prof Wolfgang Georg Arlt said long-distance destinations, like New Zealand, would have to increase their efforts to attract Chinese visitors.

After positive results from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the second quarter of 2018, there was low-level growth in the third quarter which finally turned into negative reading for the last quarter, according to COTRI analytics.

The last quarter of 2018 reflected the cooling down of relations between the governments of China and NZ, according to the institute.

The fall of the exchange rate of the NZ dollar against the RMB did not help, the institute said, and it was unclear if the rumours that the Chinese government had recommended to Chinese tour operators not to offer tours to NZ any more were to be believed.