Three words: Approved Destination Status

Not the most familiar phrase to everyone, but one that is absolutely critical to New Zealand’s tourism industry. 

Approved Destination Status – or ADS – is the name of a Government-to-Government agreement signed in 1999 that enabled Chinese visitors to come to New Zealand as part of a tour group, on an ADS visa.

Today, while the Free and Independent Travel is rapidly becoming the way Chinese see New Zealand, the group tour market still makes up around 46 per cent of Chinese visitor arrivals for the year ending March 2016.  This number continues to grow albeit at a slower pace now that FIT.

We are also seeing solid growth in the so-called “premium” ADS group tour arrivals – those travelling only to New Zealand and staying longer than the ‘dual destination – two night – three day’ tours that we first saw back in the early days. This premium group are up 36 per cent for the year ending May 2016.

Tourism New Zealand is responsible for approving companies that wish to run ADS tours and for approving ADS tour guides. The rules and criteria for tour operators and guides are outlined in a Code of Conduct. The aim of all this activity is to help make sure that Chinese visitors to New Zealand have the best experience possible.

In June, Tourism New Zealand held its annual ADS forum in Auckland – you can read download the presentation below. One of the topics of discussion was that of ‘group tour’ and the clarification around how not all group tours, are ADS even though all ADS tours are group tours.


It is possible for visitors to come to New Zealand on a General Visitor Visa but experience the country as part of a group tour. We are seeing more and more of these sorts of tours in the South Island. Group tours of this nature, where visitors are travelling on a General Visitor Visa, are not covered by the ADS Code of Conduct, nor does Tourism New Zealand have any role in monitoring these groups or the sort of experiences they are having. 

Another area of conversation was around the significant growth in air capacity and the interest being shown by Chinese airlines to either increase their flights or come on as new carriers. We know that China is close to reaching the 42 weekly flights allowed under the current air services agreement, but what will happen at that point is unclear.

In summary, it’s a positive outlook with China continuing to grow strongly and the greatest growth occurring in FIT. But with steady growth in ADS tours, we are seeing no let up in the volume of work passing across our desks here at Tourism New Zealand. There are still more people wanting to become ADS approved tour guides and in-bound operators and many more spot checks being scheduled for the year ahead in the pursuit of quality.

We also expect to have another  proposed round of changes to the Code of Conduct, all aimed at enhancing the quality experience had by our guests. If you have any question, you can contact the team on 0508 897 652 or

Paul Yeo

Industry Relations Manager