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Editorial: Chinese New Year market update

新春佳节快乐 (Happy New Year)

As the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival wraps up, I have been reflecting on the importance of our Chinese visitors to the New Zealand tourism industry and the role we all play in ensuring the China market remains strong.

The most recent International Visitor Arrivals numbers from Stats NZ shows China market growth is continuing – albeit at a more moderate and sustainable pace than we have seen in recent years. Holiday arrivals from China have increased by 1.0 percent to 314,048 for the year ending December 2017.

Over the past year the median length of stay for our Chinese visitors has also increased, extending by one full day to eight days. Longer stays contributes to higher productivity with more money spent on accommodation, food and activities, and therefore greater benefit to New Zealand communities.

The Chinese New Year period is one of the biggest times of the year for the China market holiday travel. January 2018 showed to be a bumper month for General Visitor Visa (GVV) applications from China, signalling the potential for a busy travel period ahead. More than 35,000 Chinese nationals were granted a GVV last month according to Immigration NZ, which is a 113 percent increase on the same period last year. In comparison, Approved Destination Status (ADS) visas for large tour groups were up just 14 percent.

Free and Independent Travellers (FIT) now make up 36 percent of total China arrivals compared with 29 percent the year prior, while group tours are down from 48 percent to 40 percent. This shift in the visitor mix reflects both the focus of Tourism NZ in the Chinese market to improve the mix of higher-value group and FIT visitors, as well as the changing travel patterns of a maturing traveller market.

The latest Tourism NZ infographics of our six key international visitor markets have been released this week (see www.tourismnewzealand.com/research) and show the latest high level trends for the China market. This kind of information is valuable in helping our industry make informed decisions about the future of their businesses.

The new infographic shows that 70 percent of Active Considerers in the China market want to be able to get in touch with nature during a holiday to New Zealand. More than half of Chinese visitors are independent professionals (aged 25-34) and just 4 percent are backpackers. And the top activity Chinese visitors are interested in participating in is observing wildlife (81%). It’s important that we recognise that getting in touch with nature and observing wildlife can mean very different things for visitors from different markets and our experiences need to be tailored accordingly.

I heard a great story last year about how a tourism operator used similar insights to better tailor their product to the Chinese market. This was a kayaking tour operator specialising in kayaking adventures ranging from an hour or so to overnight.

As the insights show, the China market is generally looking for a relaxing New Zealand break (53%). They are typically interested in activities that involve indulging and pampering (53%) over adventure activities that are more popular in other markets. So what does a kayak tour operator specialising in multi-hour on-water adventures do?

They introduced a short hire option, 15 minutes or so. This was enough time for the visitors to get out on the water, drift about a little, take those highly-coveted photos of the Marlborough Sounds and get back onto dry land again for a gourmet lunch.

For the new Chinese zodiac year, there are a few questions to consider about your own operations:

  • Is China a key market for your business? (If you’re a tourism operator, hopefully the answer is yes)
  • What are you doing to attract Chinese visitors to your business?
  • How are you showing manaakitanga to Chinese visitors when they arrive?

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous Year of the Dog.

Stephen England-Hall
Chief Executive, Tourism New Zealand

First published in Inside Tourism, 22 February 2018