Tourism businesses are making the most of a breather in the rate of visitor growth.
The sector experienced 30 per cent growth in the five years to 2018, reaching more than 3.8 million visitors as air links expanded and the global appetite for travel grew rapidly. For international visitors, New Zealand was a hot destination.
But that's changed. The number of new airlines coming here has levelled off and economies have soured in some of those visitors' home countries.
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Tourism New Zealand says holidaymaker growth has stalled - running exactly flat at 0.0 per cent in the year to July - while the number of people visiting friends and family, and for business, is growing in the low single digits. That's well shy of overall annual growth of up to 12 per cent when the market was running hot.
Does that mean this country's biggest earner of foreign exchange is in the doldrums? Far from it.
''We're still seeing growth - the spend figures are growing, tourism is still contributing to the economy, it's just that it's not the same level of growth that we've been seeing in the last five years,'' says Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts.
''There's a general understanding that the pace of growth couldn't continue at that level forever.''
Confidence is still running high in the industry.
A survey about to be released shows that more than 40 per cent of tourism businesses questioned believe business is going to get better in the coming year, in contrast to the gloomy tone of other confidence surveys.
Roberts says overall spending was up by more than 4 per cent so far this year, which aligned with the industry's goal of getting value over volume.
Domestic tourism, which accounts for almost 60 per cent of the total spend, is estimated to be up by 2.9 per cent and international spending up 6.3 per cent.
''That suggests that one of our industry mantras - value over volume - is being achieved right now," he says. "Undoubtedly the weaker kiwi dollar helps that. There is a very strong correlation between the exchange rate and spend levels.
Operators who were struggling to cope with growth are now consolidating.
''There is no shortage of opportunities to get a more stable workforce, reinvest in your product, plan for future developments.''
One area that two or three years ago threatened to staunch future growth was the lack of hotel capacity, but there has been a surge in hotel building in Auckland and Queenstown.
''Those concerns have pretty much disappeared," says Roberts. "That headache has dissipated for now.''
And there are signs of a slight pick-up across the board, especially in the domestic market.
Last week Statistics NZ figures showed the first increase in international guest nights for nine months - up 0.5 per cent.
Total guest nights were up 3.7 per cent at 2.62 million in August from a year earlier, with domestic guest nights up 5.6 per cent at 1.66 million.
Asked what more the Government can do, Roberts says there is agreement over long term goals, but he is hearing rising concern about cost and compliance.
''One of the big headaches recently has been delays in processing visas. Delays in getting work visa approvals for staff and tourist visas signed off had hit the Indian market.''
He is also concerned about how the $35 visitor levy introduced this year would be spent.
•$40b-plus - annual Tourism spend.
• 216,000 people directly employed in tourism. Another 149,000 indirectly.
• In 2013, total annual tourism spend in NZ was $27b. The industry set a goal of increasing that to $41b by 2025. This year it will go past $40b and get close to that goal 6 years early. Now the industry's goal is $50b by 2025.
• The pace of growth has slowed in 2019.
• International arrivals to date in 2019 are up by 1.5 per cent compared to 2018.
• Value is growing faster than volume.
• International spend is estimated (by MBIE) to be up by 6.3 per cent so far in 2019. The weaker kiwi dollar is a key factor.
• Domestic spend is estimated to be up by 2.7 per cent so far in 2019.
The new tax on visitors from most countries aside from Australia and the Pacific Islands, will raise about $80 million.
''We don't want a lolly scramble with small amounts being scattered everywhere - it should be used to make a real difference. It needs to be spent on significant projects that fix an issue.''
As well, Roberts still wants a review of how the estimated $1.7b in GST paid by international visitors could be spent on tourism.
He says the plan to build up tourism over the shoulder seasons and in the regions is working - slowly.
The chief executive of Tourism Holdings Ltd, Grant Webster, says the tourist industry should learn the lesson of the global financial crisis (GFC).
''Back in the GFC, one of the biggest issues for the industry was a dramatic pull back on expenditure. We've had the growth. This is a pause to invest in infrastructure for the next phase.''
Tourism surged around the 2011 Rugby World Cup, then continued its strong run, putting pressure on infrastructure and tourism facilities.
''In a hotel, if you don't refurbish the rooms you have a catch-up cycle later on. It's the same with planes.''
But tourism businesses need to watch their operating costs during what is clearly a more difficult time.
''Costs can continue to go up regardless of what revenue is doing so I think there's an adjustment there.''
Webster says that with today's low interest rates, "money is just flooding in'' for tourism ventures, from Kiwisaver funds and Australian private equity investors.
''They just can't find enough places to put money," he says. "Banks are being very supportive as well."
He too is worried that red tape surrounding building is delaying projects. Hotels are being finished two years too late.
There have been well-publicised problems with local government funding for infrastructure in the South Island, but also around the Waitomo things are ''absolutely broken'' and central government needs to front up, says Webster. Local authorities need to be careful about imposing their own taxes such as the proposed bed tax in Queenstown.
''I think we have to be very careful around taxes," he says. "Tourists do know when they're being hit with new ones.''
In light of the slowdown, Tourism NZ is concentrating on core markets - Australia, China and the United States.
René de Monchy, the agency's director of commercial, says there is a travel slowdown around the world.
''Tourism is a discretionary spend so it's logical that we see a slowdown. I think it is a reminder of how incredibly competitive the tourism sector is,'' he says.
''We are not the only ones promoting ourselves as a holiday destination and it's really a good reminder that the need to be represented [in other countries] continues and is arguably more important in a softer economy.''
Tourism NZ expects the slowdown trend to continue for the rest of the year before picking up in the second half of 2020.
Other markets such as Korea would open up, with Air NZ flying to Seoul and Korean Airlines increasing capacity.
''There are green shoots with markets with good connectivity,'' de Monchy says.