Chinese New Year brings growth and change

As we look ahead to what ‘the year of the monkey’ has in store for the tourism sector it’s a good time to reflect on the changing face of our active Chinese market.

Growth from China has been accelerating with a staggering 34.4 per cent increase for the 2015 year over 2014. Although recent media attention points to a cooling Chinese economy we’re not expecting tourism growth to slow down any time soon with the current New Zealand summer set to be the strongest yet.

Image: Gareth Cooke

Increased air capacity from the two direct carriers, China Southern Airlines and Air New Zealand has been supplemented with new players Air China and China Eastern also establishing year-round services in 2015. The China Southern flights directly to Christchurch have also opened a direct route to the South Island.

Chinese New Year is the most significant holiday period for both domestic and international travel on the Chinese calendar. We’re expecting to welcome around 70,000 Chinese visitors in the four weeks surrounding the actual holiday, 8 February. This would set another new record for China and be 30 per cent higher than last year’s golden travel period of 55,000.

Of more significance than volume is the benefit to the New Zealand economy in terms of value. Average expenditure per Chinese visitor was $5,100 (Sept IVS); a whopping 30 per cent increase for the year. Put into context, the China market is now on a par with our more mature markets of the UK and US average expenditure per arrival at $5,400 and $4,800 respectively.

In addition to outstanding growth, the face of Chinese travel has changed significantly, with the China market maturing more quickly than any other market. As recently as two years ago, the Chinese market was much more heavily skewed towards guided tours (53 per cent) with just 17 per cent in the FIT segment.

The market has progressed quickly to more independent style travel with FIT now comprising 31 per cent of the market. More Chinese visitors are choosing to rent a car and self-drive now than ever before which means we’re seeing more Chinese nationals venturing off the well-beaten Auckland-Rotorua-Queenstown track and exploring further afield. And as the Chinese are becoming more experienced independent travellers they are participating in more activities too. The most popular activities among Chinese visitors are visiting beaches and other natural attractions, geothermal areas, seeing native birds and visiting farms and orchards. Chinese holiday visitors now stay an average of 8.3 days compared with 6.2 days in 2010.

The China market has grown quickly, diversified quickly and is maturing quickly. We can’t predict the future with certainty, but we can prepare for it by learning and sharing as much as possible about catering for new markets and doing what we can to enhance visitor satisfaction.

Media reports have recently raised capacity issues with some operators reporting to have been fully booked for several months prior to Chinese New Year. Part of Tourism New Zealand’s four-pronged strategy to deal with high-season capacity issues is to drive shoulder period travel as hard as possible. We’re also focussed on attracting the highest-value segments from every market, spreading visitors throughout the country and minimising the impact of tourism on the environment.

Tourism New Zealand’s China Toolkit is available along with a range of other market insights to help you develop and deliver products Chinese visitors value and enjoy.

MBIE’s recently completed China FIT Visitor Market Research is being shared with industry currently and points to opportunities to support up-and-coming independent travellers in need of good quality professional guidance. It also emphasises the need for more Mandarin speakers and translated information.

Tourism New Zealand is also involved in a number of cross-agency initiatives to support safer driving by international visitors. These initiatives, tailored to individual markets include a video by Chinese celebrity influencer Huang Lei with key messages on keeping safe on our roads. Filmed in New Zealand, this video showcases our unique set of driving conditions and is promoted by TNZ’s in-market China team. Also, Tourism New Zealand’s online safer driving training module for travel trade has been completed by more than 2,000 offshore agents since it launched in July 2015.

It’s great to see an increasing number of Chinese New Year festivals and parades which are most prevalent in our main centres. This year, some celebrations in Auckland occurred two weeks early so as not to coincide with Waitangi Day celebrations. Let the celebrations continue! 恭贺新春,猴年吉祥

Kevin Bowler

Chief Executive