The tourism industry is preparing for an expected surge of Chinese tourists next year, but there are fears that rogue operators will spoil the party.
An international agreement between the New Zealand and China governments will see 2019 declared as "China-NZ Year of Tourism".
"This will be the biggest year for Chinese tourism, but we are concerned that illegal operators will damage the experience of our Chinese visitors," said Simon Cheung, chairman of the New Zealand Chinese Travel and Tourism Association.
The Herald revealed last month that unwitting Chinese tourists were being made to pay between $10 and 25 to visit free public spaces such as Mission Bay and the Muriwai gannet colony by these unscrupulous Auckland-based Chinese tour operators.
Cheung said association members have been gathering evidence - including taking videos of operators picking up passengers at the Viaduct and Auckland Airport - and forwarding them on to the police and Auckland Council.
"We have done everything we can to help the authorities investigate, but it seems like there's nothing they can do," said Cheung.
Neither the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) or the police answered the Herald's queries about whether any action was being taken against unlicensed operators.
He said the association, which represents over 700 local Chinese tourism businesses here, will be meeting with tourism and government officials next month to discuss the best way forward.
"We want to know what the Government agencies are doing, and also want to hear their advice on what we can do to make this a success," Cheung added.
MBIE tourism policy manager Richard Davies said the Year of Tourism was aimed at attracting high-value Chinese visitors.
"By 'high value' we don't just mean visitors who spend more, we want people who come outside of that peak summer season and who explore more of our regions," Davies said.
"A big part of achieving that goal is improving the experience Chinese visitors have while they're here."
Davies said MBIE was doing all it could to support businesses to provide better service to the Chinese tourists and promote that cultural understanding.
Businesses are being told that offering special deals, allowing for last-minute bookings and taking it easy on tours are things they could do to keep Chinese visitors happy.
"Chinese often have a stressful lifestyle at home. Make their experience here easy and relaxed," an online resource guide issued by the ministry said.
"Provide options so people can do different things together. Chinese are often just as happy to watch an activity as participate, but they need somewhere to wait comfortably and still be engaged."
Chinese visitors liked to share their experiences on social media and online platforms, MBIE said.
"Ratings and reviews are important for Chinese visitors when deciding on an itinerary," the ministry added.
China is New Zealand's second biggest visitor market, with more than 400,000 Chinese visiting and spending $1.7 billion a year.
A police spokeswoman said it was also doing its bit to ensure the visitors are best prepared for "a safe and happy trip".
"We are doing this by working to refresh our in-flight safety video, vehicle checks conducted on tour operators, delivering safety workshops and enhancing co-operation with the Chinese embassy when tourists get into difficulties," she said.
Police were also collaborating with local Chinese media to disseminate safety information.
Statistics New Zealand figures released today showed visitor arrivals from China was up 47,800 for the year ended July 2018.
According to MBIE's latest international visitor survey, spending by international visitors increased nine per cent to $11.1 billion in the year ended July 2018.
China visitors contributed to the increase, with the market growing 11 per cent over the period to $1.66 billion.
Tips to keep Chinese visitors happy
• Offer a special deal: It's an acknowledgement you recognise and value their business, a deal does not have to be a big discount.
• Cater for groups: Chinese tend to travel in groups of 4-20, provide options so people can do different things together.
• Allow for last-minute bookings: Many will book at the last minute or on the day.
• Provide a warm welcome: Show interest by asking questions and starting a conversation.
• Take it easy: Take time to stop and enjoy, take a photo, listen to the silence.
- Source: MBIE