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Adam Weaver examines the Chinese outbound travel market for New Zealand and finds big opportunities, along with challenges and choices

Adam Weaver examines the Chinese outbound travel market for New Zealand and finds big opportunities, along with challenges and choices
Are we ready to welcome 400,000 tourists from China a year?

By Adam Weaver*

In New Zealand’s tourism industry, China has often been described as an emerging market with potential.

We may now be reaching the point where it is more apt to say that this market has already emerged.

As a result, it presents certain opportunities and challenges - and there is scope for choices to be made.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Chinese travellers have spent more abroad than travellers from any other country - nearly $130 billion in 2013.

By early 2015, Chinese travellers could be taking more than 100 million overseas trips. This figure could double within five or six years.

China is currently the second largest source of international visitors to New Zealand behind Australia. In 2013, approximately 230,000 Chinese tourists visited this country. By 2018/2019, this number could reach a staggering 400,000.

A challenge that comes with the increasing number of Chinese visitors is the crucial matters of value and yield.

Travellers who are willing to spend a decent sum of money during the course of their visit and wish to have experiences that match those offered by New Zealand’s tourism industry - and then share glowing accounts of these experiences via social media - definitely have appeal.

China is certainly not the only overseas market that deserves our attention. However, as part of a portfolio of different national markets, devoting resources to the Chinese market makes sense.

The opportunities presented by China’s growing middle classes and by a growing segment of ultra-affluent consumers are significant.

Independent travel is becoming more common and is in many ways preferable to budget-oriented, shopping-focused package tours.

One challenge is identifying a market niche or a series of niches worthy of being targeted. In this aspect, Auckland provides an instructive example. In 2014, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development unveiled its golfing, equine, and marine strategy. There is clearly a fit here between the niches targeted - Chinese who are enthusiastic about golf, horse racing, and sailing - and the types of experiences the Auckland region can provide.

In addition to marketing-related matters, product development deserves attention.

There is already evidence that industry participants, namely hoteliers, are taking steps to adapt the services they provide to the Chinese market. Breakfast buffets feature a wider array of options, for example the inclusion of congee. Green tea, symbolic of healthy drink, is also readily available in many hotel rooms.

Should more be done in the accommodation sector? There are other choices to contemplate.

“Chinese hotels”, hotels specifically created for the Chinese market have been proposed and was endorsed by the Prime Minister in early 2013. For some, such hotels would suit the tastes of Chinese travellers seeking familiar comforts in their home country. Others suggest that hotels of this type may not actually be that popular, are inconsistent with efforts to showcase New Zealand hospitality, and insulate Chinese travellers from serendipitous and authentic encounters with New Zealanders. Building “Chinese hotels” could polarize public opinion, a challenge that deserves some consideration.

There is also scope to help Chinese travellers become more accustomed to existing tourism products in New Zealand.

Campervan travel might appeal to independent Chinese travellers. However, aspects of this mode of travel might seem slightly daunting. Holiday Parks Association New Zealand created a series of videos that were designed to familiarize independent Chinese travellers with certain details regarding campervan use - for example, sourcing fresh water and emptying the waste collection system. These videos have been posted on YouKu, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube.

Of course, encouraging more campervan travel by Chinese travellers and other overseas markets creates challenges: a number of serious road accidents have been reported in the press and there are legitimate concerns that overseas travellers, tired after their long-haul flight and perhaps unfamiliar with New Zealand’s rules of the road, pose a hazard to themselves and others. Some choices need to be made, then, with respect to the way in which we manage (potentially) rising numbers of campervan users. Should a standardised safety briefing be developed? Is a short road test necessary?

Some of the opportunities presented by the Chinese market involve making the most of situations close to home.

International students from China who are studying in New Zealand may, over the course of their stay, take a holiday. These potential tourists are, in essence, already here. They travel during their study breaks between and within semesters. As well, they invite friends and relatives to visit. Travel by students during their various breaks might also help to address issues related to seasonality in the tourism industry.

The Chinese market presents clear opportunities. Challenges, however, accompany some of these opportunities.

Arguably one of the most important challenges has yet to come to the limelight: the English language is a significant barrier for many Chinese travellers. There are opportunities to improve in this area and provide Chinese travellers with exceptional experiences with the aid of expert interpretation.

Taking advantage of the opportunities and confronting the challenges means making (sometimes difficult) choices that require the balance of risks and rewards.


Dr. Adam Weaver is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at Victoria University of Wellington

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Thats excellent news , maybe one day we can join the exclusive club of countries that get more annual tourists than their population


I happened to have a conversation with a guy from West Coast. He is a valuer and he also runs a holiday park there.


He told me that  he heard all this wonderful news about increasing number Chinese tourists coming to NZ and very excited about it. But, he also expressed his concern on struggling to attract any Chinese to stay at his holiday park.


He sought my opinions on that. I gave him several. Some, he can do by himself. But others need to be done by Govt.


They won't be going near holiday parks on the West Coast, nor for that matter, holiday parks anywhere, until such times as those too, are owned by them.

Sorry for this to sound like it does, but they will be flown here on a Chinese Airline, bussed around by Chinese owned tourism companies to Chinese owned shops and probably even many attractions. 

NZ will be left with a bit of GST and their waste matter to deal with, hardly a huge coup I would have thought.


Your understanding of NZ history is very poor.


What you describe is exactly what people thought when Japanese tourists first arrived.


But Japan gew up and their tourists became more attracted to the experience New Zealand really offers. They quickly shifted from bus-in-bus-out trips to individuals exploring. Ditto Koreans, Ditto people from Hong Kong - and Taiwan. etc.


If you see this as some static, you miss the opportunity. Which is why the professionals are enthusiatic but the folks who can't see past their noses remain blind and miss any opportunity.


Japanese tourists didn't 'ruin' New Zealand. Japanese tourism companies didn't end up 'buying New Zealand' despite the fear at the time. Chinese tourism will develop in a similar way. We just don't need to be chicken-littles.


And from someone who has spent many years in the industry, many on the West Coast, my experience was that many Japanese did become FITs but they were not in large numbers. It was actually pretty noteworthy if a Japanese couple turned up in a motorhome and even more so if one turned up on a bicycle, so the huge number that came in buses did NOT transpire into huge numbers of FITs, the bulk of them remained on bus tours



There is a collosal difference between Japanese and Chinese tourism.
When the Japanese started coming you would go to Christchurch Airport and there would be an old Kiwi with either a Japanese guide or polytech graduate using a limousine or a kiwi bus driver and Japanese speaking guide.
The Chinese just rolled up in their busses. The status of working in the tourism industry has plummeted accordingly. Pay has flat lined.