Travel trends to shape the year ahead

Many tourism operators will have read and reflected on Mary Holm's recent piece in the New Zealand Herald - 'Tourism game not for amateurs' (21 Jan).  Whilst I agree with Mary, tourism has performed surprisingly well in 2011.

When you consider the events of 2011, and well before that, New Zealand tourism has proven itself to be very resilient.  Thanks in part to the Rugby World Cup 2011, New Zealand visitor numbers grew, nights stayed grew to over 51 million, and total expenditure fell just three per cent while some currencies moved down some 20 per cent.

However, there are some very serious challenges facing many operators.  Here are four things I'm seeing a lot of:

1. Visitors are looking for value now more than ever - not just lower price but a stronger brand, better distribution or more product benefits.  Strong differentiation is the best long-term protection available to combat price competition.

2. Product distribution is changing.  While it's still essential to have good distribution through traditional channels, increasingly FIT visitors are on-line while they're travelling - planning and booking as they go.  They'll value wifi access and a strong web presence with live inventory for most operators is no longer a luxury.

3. Young travelers might be a window into the future.  They're making on-the-fly decisions, sharing experiences prolifically, and are influenced by word of mouth, be that social media, review sites, or whatever's new on the web.  Consider getting deeper into this space and be noticed, listen and actively engage.

4. There are more visitors coming from Eastern markets.  We'll also see changes towards SIT and smaller less structured groups, probably sooner than most people expect.  They're still attracted for our nature, but they are also interested in accessible activities, shopping, food and beverage, and for better interpretation of what they're experiencing.  Language and food options are a priority.

Tourism New Zealand is working on how it can build New Zealand's tourism brand, how it can better support product distribution and how it can contribute to our quality standards.  We're also committed to getting the balance right between the vital Western markets and the new growth markets in the East.

Best wishes for 2012.  The team at Tourism New Zealand is hopeful for a better year in 2012, and determined to do what we can for the advancement of the tourism sector.

 First published in Tourism Business February-March 2012 issue

Kevin Bowler

Chief Executive