In June we reached 3 million total visitors for the first time, and for the year ending September total-spend was up a staggering 38 per cent to $9.4 billion. With growth continuing to accelerate, there's no doubt the sector is expanding at a rapid rate.
At Tourism New Zealand, we also delivered some significant change, with at least 80 per cent of our effort now focused on off-peak travel. It was really encouraging to see growth in visitors during September and October combined up 17 per cent on the same two months last year.
And as we head into what will undoubtedly continue to be our peak season, the reason for encouraging more off-peak demand is ever more apparent. We are focused on continuing to do all we can to address industry concerns on managing the increasing number of visitors, and know that the shoulder seasons provide the only period during when we can significantly grow the sector and add all-important productivity gains by utilising available capacity.
The safety of visitors while travelling around New Zealand is also top of mind and we have worked hard to provide material to help inform visitors. Our visiting driver training modules have now been completed by nearly 2000 agents and we have delivered online and in-flight safety videos for the China and India markets. Additional safe driving information for the US and German markets will also be available during the peak season.
On the back of such strong arrival growth it’s positive to see that our new 100% Pure New Zealand campaign ‘every day a different journey’ is delivering dividends. Introduced in July, the campaign brings to life the idea of ‘everything close’ with New Zealand’s wide range of experiences all within easy reach. By directly tackling what visitors have told us are key barriers to choosing New Zealand, we are seeing much greater conversion of interest. Motivation to visit New Zealand after seeing the advertisements rated from 68 per cent to 88 per cent in our top six markets, well ahead of the 60 per cent benchmark. And even better, this was an improvement on previous results achieved for the very successful 100% Middle-earth campaign.
We continue to make greater and more targeted use of our own digital channels as well as those of Facebook and Instagram. It has been amazing to see the speed with which mobile has increased in importance as a channel. As a result, a lot of our material is now developed for mobile devices ahead of PC. Our optimisation of material for mobile, including images, maps and listings, is working well with a 52 per cent increase in traffic from mobile devices in July compared to same month last year.
Our refresh of both the functionality and visitor experience of newzealand.com has increased both active visits, up 24 per cent, and referral rates which grew 21 per cent over the last six months. In support of the shoulder season push, campaign activity was delivered earlier and resulted in 4.3 million visits to newzealand.com in September making it the highest month in the website’s history.
In Australia, our annual touring campaign continues to deliver excellent results. The North Island campaign really stands out, with key trade partner referrals up 260 per cent over the campaign period, delivering a 41 per cent increase in referrals from newzealand.com resulting in incremental bookings equating to more than $25 million in Australian visitor spend.
During the year we also delivered the largest ever famil, welcoming 375 high quality agents to enjoy one of 23 four-day itineraries. In addition to a training day run with 25 regional tourism organisations, Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia, 6,000 online training modules have since been completed by attendees.
Our use of ‘influencers’ in our key markets continues to increase the reach of our own activity and our marketing investments. Using their established social media networks we are effectively targeting those potential visitors in the ‘dreaming’ phase of planning their holiday through a credible channel. Bringing our Chinese influencer, Huang Lei, to New Zealand for the second time to celebrate his 20th anniversary with his wife delivered an equivalent of $24 million in media coverage, a combined 4.4 million views of his 8 videos ‘20 years in love’ videos and reached a social media audience of 22 million people and still rising.
Then in October our tourism ambassador to India, Sidharth Malhorta’s use of our hashtag #NZMustDo resulted in over 23k people sharing content with the hashtag during the month, while 2.8 million people engaged with his eight day trip around New Zealand via social media.
It is fantastic to wrap a busy year with the international visitor sector performing so strongly. We head into 2016 with great momentum and the outlook for the next two years looks to be even stronger.