Tourism recovers with gusto

Graham Budd.
Graham Budd.
Queenstown tourism leaders have welcomed new official figures which show the total resort guest nights for year-end 2013 rose a significant 8.4% to 2,756,149.

The increase is seen by Destination Queenstown as ''clear waters'' after turbulent years of natural disasters, pandemic threats and the global financial crisis which affected Queenstown and New Zealand tourism.

The recovery and return to growth from traditional visitor markets coincides with continued growth from new visitor markets.

International guest nights were up 10.1% to 1,807,837, accounting for 65.6% of all guest nights in the Queenstown regional tourism organisation area, Statistics New Zealand reported last week.

Domestic guest nights were up 5.2% to 948,312, making up 34.4% of total guest nights for the same period.

The largest percentage increase, by accommodation type, came from the motel sector, up 12.9%, with the hotel sector up 9.4% on year-end 2012.

The average length of stay rose from 2.55 nights to 2.59 nights.

Queenstown Airport Corporation also released its latest passenger statistics, for January 2014, last week.

Total passenger numbers were strong for the month, up 4.5% on the back of 11% growth the previous year.

International passenger growth remained strong, up 15.4%, while domestic passenger numbers were up 1.7%.

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd said the 8.4% increase was a combination of international and domestic visitor markets either growing or recovering.

''We're at the very pleasing period, after quite a few years of some uncertainty and steady recovery, to be in a phase of consistent growth across our key markets,'' Mr Budd said.

The increase of Chinese visitors to Queenstown was believed to be a factor in the 10.1% year-on-year rise in international guest nights.

The Australia visitor market continued to grow, particularly in July and August, buoyed by regular seasonal campaigns across the Tasman, he said.

Penny Clark, Queenstown hotels regional chairwoman of the Tourism Industry Association and general manager of Goldridge Resort, said December 2012 guest night figures were unusually inflated due to two ''exceptionally busy'' weeks of more guest nights from the conference and incentive market.

''We didn't get the C&I figures like the year before, so it makes it look like we weren't busy, but it's simply the impact of those two weeks and this year we didn't have it.

''When you look across the board for the summer, we've had a brilliant January, we're having a brilliant February - tourism is up.''

Ms Clark said the wide variety of visitors was noticeable over the past couple of years and the impact of the Chinese tourism market was starting to take hold.

Statistics NZ reported domestic guest nights in the resort increased in 2013 over 2012, despite Queenstown Airport in January announcing a decline in domestic passengers through the terminal over the latter half of 2013. The drop was mainly due to Jetstar suspending its services from Wellington and Christchurch.

''I would say the reason the domestic is up is from the impact of what I call `the drive people', Kiwis who come up from Invercargill or Dunedin and all the outlying areas in between,'' Ms Clark said.

The demographics of people tramping the Great Walks were also changing, with Japanese visitors seen more often on tracks such as the Routeburn. This change could mean they stayed longer in accommodation in the Wakatipu.