Managing visitor demand

First published in Inside Tourism issue 1,045, 1 October 2015.

International visitor arrivals topping three million for the first time recently has brought both celebration and new questions about how we’ll cope with the rapid growth. It’s good to celebrate our strong tourism industry, as it’s good for the economy and the 170,000 New Zealanders employed in the sector, but we shouldn’t forget to take steps to carefully manage the unintended impacts of the sector.

Well before we hit the three million annual visitor mark, we had strategies in place to help meet some of the challenges of fast paced growth.  These elements are central to our plan:

  1. A focus on the highest-value segments in every market – aiming for value over volume growth, by encouraging visitors to stay longer, travel to more regions, and generate more dollar value.  This is working, with visitor numbers up 7.8% (year ended August) and visitor spending up 28% to nearly $9B (year ended June).
  2. To drive shoulder period travel as hard as we can to broaden the peak season; which will have the effect of improving the return on tourism infrastructure investment.
  3. A focus on regional visitor spread through messaging, itineraries and the segments we target, so visitors are not clustered around just traditionally visited regions.
  4. Finally, to minimize the impact of tourism on the environment and New Zealand’s communities. To continue to invest in safe driving initiatives for international visitors and to set clearly articulated best practice standards for sustainable business management through Qualmark.

To encourage international travelers to visit during off-peak seasons required a major shift in Tourism New Zealand’s marketing focus, resulting in 80 per cent of our resources and effort now going in to promoting shoulder season travel. The benefits of shoulder season travel are numerous - with more accommodation available, prices often more affordable, and tourism attractions generally less busy than at peak times.  Our forward planning and shift in focus has already proven effective, helping produce record arrival figures for the months of May and June this year. 

Alongside our shoulder-season marketing focus, we have a team dedicated to attracting very high-spending premium travelers which is helping fill our luxury accommodation and experience offerings.  

We are also working to encourage visitors who travel to pursue special interests including sports, events, and cultural activities.  These visitors are known to spend more than regular visitors, with skiing being the best example, and with new expanded focus on golf, cycling, and guided walking over the past couple of years. 

Conventions and incentive business travel offer a further opportunity to build another layer of visitors outside of peak times. Convention-goers often tag holidays on to the events they attend and their experience can lead to visiting New Zealand again with family members.

Despite everything we’re doing, there will be inevitable ‘growing pains’ as the industry continues to expand by over 200k people per annum.   Among the challenges growth will create will be road safety as more visitors take to self-driving throughout New Zealand.  No single organisation has all the answers to these issues, but Tourism New Zealand is doing its share contributing travel agent training modules (over a thousand passes already), safer driving information on, safe driving videos, and marketing non-driving itineraries. We are working closely with other agencies to ensure our response is well co-ordinated and makes a difference.

As the industry expands, so will the impact it has more broadly on the environment and communities.  Tourism New Zealand has recently taken 100% ownership in Qualmark in order that we can invest in a revitalized sustainability standard that will help businesses establish and grow while minimizing their environmental and social impacts.   

It took us 13 years to get from 2M to 3M visitors, but if our current rate of growth continued, we’ll make 4M international visitors inside the next four years.  Managing the many challenges associated with this exciting phase of growth will take a coordinated effort from industry and government.

Kevin Bowler

Chief Executive