DQ chief says tourists spending

Graham Budd
Graham Budd
Queenstown appears to be bucking the national tourism trend by enjoying an increase in international visitor spending while New Zealand, as a whole, suffers a sharp drop.

The quarterly international visitor survey released this week by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment revealed a 6% decrease in spending by international visitors since 2011, with a total spend of $5.42 billion.

The year to December 2012 data showed spending by international visitors was at its lowest since 2001.

However, Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd said ''the national picture isn't a reflection of what's been happening in Queenstown'', when asked to comment yesterday.

Visitor numbers from around the country and overseas this summer were anecdotally strong in Wakatipu, backed by 75.2% hotel occupancy in January, up from 70.8% of January last year and 73.8% in January 2011, according to the Tourism Industry Association last week.

Ministry tourism research and evaluation manager Peter Ellis said the fall in national spending could be partly attributed to a 2% drop in visitor numbers over the same period, as well as poor global economic conditions and the strong New Zealand dollar.

Mr Ellis said 2011 was a relatively good year for international tourism because of the Rugby World Cup, which overall outweighed the other challenges of the year, but tourist spending last year returned to the decline which was happening before the cup.

''The most significant aspects of the drop in spending are a decrease in UK visitors' spend, and in the total amount that holiday visitors are spending,'' Mr Ellis said.

Meanwhile, China was confirmed as New Zealand's second largest tourist market after Australia.

Spending by Chinese visitors increased by 42%, exceeding ministry forecasts, he said.

Tourism New Zealand explained the drop in international visitor spending was a result of the change in visitor mix and increased spending in 2011 by visitors attending the Rugby World Cup.

''The increase in travellers visiting family and relatives, or 'VFR', decrease in the average length of stay and a strong New Zealand dollar are all contributing to a decline in total spend,'' chief executive Kevin Bowler said this week.

''Australia and China provide our two biggest sources of visitors. However, these markets also have a high proportion of VFR and tend to stay for shorter lengths of time than the long-haul markets.''

''We continue to focus our efforts on increasing spend, particularly in the China market, with initiatives like the Premiere Kiwi Partnership programme, that markets longer-stay, higher-value itineraries to free and independent travellers.''

Mr Bowler said the upside was the Japanese market continuing to show signs of recovery, with total spending up 31% to $273 million.

''The economic situation in Europe, and New Zealand's high exchange rate, has understandably impacted on long-haul arrivals and level of spend ... expenditure from the UK down 21% and US down 7%.''

Mr Budd said early indications were Queenstown experienced some visitor spending growth in December and for the year ending December, as opposed to the national decline.

''I think it correlates with the visitor number data we've seen to date, so we've got two key indicators in terms of how well we're doing - the number of visitors and how much they're spending,'' he said.

''Through the commercial accommodation monitor, visitor arrivals and other data, we've been seeing year-on-year growth in domestic and international visitor numbers in the last 12 months.

''Now with this end-of-year end spend data, what we can say is that growth in visitors is being reflected in the money they're spending, so it's a very pleasing result for us.''

Mr Budd said he thought the resort was not yet entirely clear of the impacts of the major earthquake in Christchurch, two years ago today. International visitors tended to travel around the stricken gateway city, helped by the rise in direct Queenstown flights, which also affected where they stayed, which was also a dividend for the resort.

Chinese New Year holidays, which began on February 10, continue into next week. Anecdotally, the festive season had capitalised on the already growing number of Chinese visitors to Queenstown, Mr Budd said.

Destination Queenstown adopted a ''light-handed approach'' by sending a sign which said ''Happy New Year'' in Mandarin as a computer file to its members. It also served to prompt members to get them thinking how they were welcoming New Year visitors, he said.

Mr Budd said the question to be discussed before the next Chinese New Year was whether Queenstown needed to do any more than display signs and lantern decorations and have frontline staff trained to exchange Chinese pleasantries.

''They're not necessarily coming here expecting to have a big Chinese New Year parade. They're coming here because of what and who we are, so we'll do more analysis and talk to our members over the next few months to see if it is appropriate we do any more, or if we actually don't need to.''