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A record number of Chinese tourists are expected in Queenstown next week, thanks to greatly improved air access and operators' efforts to boost the resort's New Zealand market share, Destination Queenstown says.
The Chinese New Year was celebrated not only in China, but also Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, DQ chief executive Tony Everitt said this week.
The usually week-long celebration was equivalent to Western Christmas and New Year festivities and many Asians booked holidays either side of public holidays, making January 23-29 the most significant travel week for the Chinese and Asian market.
The Chinese and Asian region had been least affected by the global financial crisis. Confidence and currencies were in relatively good shape, Mr Everitt said.
"The fundamental demand is growing. It's one of the few parts of the world where that's happening. We have significantly improved accessibility from those markets. If we think back to Chinese New Year last year, we didn't have any flights by China Southern Airlines. Now, they are flying daily from Guangzhou to Auckland, so that's 1600 seats a week from China we didn't have last year."
Auckland International Airport controversially became a 24.99% shareholder of Queenstown Airport, seen by many as the most important asset in the Lakes district, in 2010.
Queenstown was the focus of a $1 million campaign by its "strategic alliance" partner to attract high-value tourists, especially from China and the United States, last year.
The Trenz trade show in the resort in May also discussed the growing Chinese market.
Queenstown also stands to benefit from low fare subsidiary Air Asia X flying from Kuala Lumpur to Christchurch.
Jetstar now also flies from Singapore to Auckland.
Mr Everitt said Destination Queenstown and its 850 member businesses worked hard over the past 12 months to increase Queenstown's market share from the 15% to 20% of visitors to New Zealand who travelled to the resort.
The number was far less than the more mature markets of Europe and Japan, whose tourists did not feel a visit to the country was complete without the Wakatipu experience, he said.
Asked what kind of Chinese tourists were likely to visit Queenstown, from free and independent travellers to tour groups to wealthy luxury seeking shoppers, Mr Everitt said it was dangerous to generalise.
He equated the variety of traveller types Queenstown could expect from Asia with the variety of travellers regularly visiting from Australia.
"As the Chinese market grows and matures ... we need to mature as well, in terms of our understanding of what that means.
"There are probably parts of the market that appeal at all of those levels and that's good because we've got businesses that work at all those levels."