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Benje Patterson on digital hitchhiking, dismantling Wellington's runway extension, Hobbit costumes, potty training for tourists, the daylight robbery of roaming, Dilbert & more

Benje Patterson on digital hitchhiking, dismantling Wellington's runway extension, Hobbit costumes, potty training for tourists, the daylight robbery of roaming, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Benje Patterson*, a senior economist at Infometrics. His Top 10 focuses on tourism.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comment stream below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. Embracing digital hitchhiking
Bad driving by tourists has been garnering a lot of media attention of late. 

Although there have been some clear cases of dangerous driving, I am a little disturbed by some of the xenophobic undercurrents I see coming out in some locals’ key snatching behaviour.

If we aren’t comfortable having tourists driving around on our roads, then why not embrace the modern reincarnation of hitchhiking and offer up seats in our cars via ride sharing apps?

While some of the sense of adventure is lost if you organise lifts in advance, this was still one of the most momentous trips I've ever taken. With two or three hitchers per car, it is more social and infinitely safer than the traditional way. I'm sure that Jack Kerouac would have approved of – and used – Couchsurfing and the hitching sites, had he been around today. The age of e-thumb has definitely arrived.

2. Dismantling the case for Wellington Airport’s runway extension
I am aghast at the idea of councils across the Wellington Region offering $150m of ratepayers’ money to fund Wellington Airport’s runway extension, particularly after having grown up in Invercargill where Tim Shadbolt tricked us into believing our airport could become an international hub. 

I don’t buy the claim that airlines are lining up in anticipation of carrying hordes of tourists on long-haul flights to our windy capital city.

BARNZ (the body representing airlines in New Zealand) seems to agree and commissioned NZIER to critique a prior economic evaluation done by EY – this quote neatly shows the shonkiness of some of the assumptions underpinning the case for an airport extension:

"The report assumes that in 2020 everyone that is travelling between Wellington and an overseas hub will sit and patiently wait for up to 48 hours to catch the one direct non-stop flight out of town. They would apparently do this in order to avoid the extra travel time via Auckland, Christchurch, or an Australian hub."

3. There are other ways to boost air connectivity
Extending runways so that long-haul flights can land is an expensive way of boosting air connectivity.  Much cheaper methods of boosting connections are strategic alliances and code sharing agreements between airlines that allow for more efficient connections between feeder short-haul flights and long-haul flights to farther flung destinations.

Air New Zealand has jumped on this bandwagon and stitched up deals with Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, and Etihad, and the Government is also doing its bit by ensuring that policy settings are supportive of code sharing.

Cabinet has approved new air services agreements with Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, Greece, Oman, Serbia and the Seychelles that will give greater options for New Zealanders travelling to those countries.

It has also confirmed arrangements reached with the Czech Republic and Curaçao to provide opportunities for airlines to offer code-share services, where two or more airlines share the same flight.

“The new arrangements mean that airlines from these countries will have the opportunity to offer services to New Zealand if they see commercial opportunities – unhindered by the regulatory barriers that characterise much of international aviation.

“Similarly, New Zealand airlines now have the opportunity to offer services in these markets”, Mr Bridges says.

4. $65,000 spent on Hobbit costumes
I wrote an article on regional tourism this week that identified visits to Hobbiton as a key factor underpinning a tourism boom in Matamata-Piako at present.  This boom is no surprise when one considers how much some crazy Tolkien groupies are prepared to spend on Hobbit-themed outfits!

It's a scene that turned many heads as Tolkien fans from all over the world flocked to New Zealand to celebrate the third and final Hobbit movie.

About 200 attendees dressed as dwarves, elves and hobbits and wizards - all inspired by Lord of the Rings.

Among them were five dedicated Australian fans, from Melbourne, who spent a combined total of $65,000 on their elaborate costumes.

5. Potty training for tourists
Napier City Council seems to be having a few problems with freedom campers’ toilet habits, after having brought in a new bylaw allowing for freedom camping at five reserves across the city.

Many parts of New Zealand are facing similar public backlashes on these types of issues at the moment, but we must be careful not to have knee jerk reactions.  Next thing inbound airlines will be required to play inflight videos teaching tourists how to use New Zealand toilets!

"In our view it's not working. We're really quite concerned about it. It's undermined the campgrounds and the backpacker lodges and resulted in people in cars and small vans sleeping all around in our public areas and that's unacceptable," he said.

"It's one thing having a nice campervan parked on your foreshore. It's another thing having people cooking on primus stoves with their washing hanging out between two vans and urinating in the bushes."

6. Vamos a Buenos Aires!
For those of you that missed it, Air New Zealand is going to begin thrice weekly services to Buenos Aires at the end of the year.

Those glaciers of Patagonia, Iguazu Falls, and the culture of Buenos Aires will be closer than ever.  Imagine watching Boca Juniors play at the footballing legend Diego Maradona’s home ground and experiencing fan fanaticism first hand!

"South America was once the domain of the intrepid explorer, but the direct service to Buenos Aires, with a flight time of around 12 hours, means a quick and action packed getaway is now a reality.

"Buenos Aires is the most popular tourist city in South America and is a perfect stepping stone for those who then want to explore the country, or continent, further."

"We’ve been very clear about our aspirations for growth in the Pacific Rim. Our flights to Singapore commence next month and this new route to Buenos Aires further strengthens our network in the Pacific Rim. Argentina is an exciting new destination for New Zealanders, and with seamless one-stop connectivity through Auckland it will provide a fantastic opportunity for Australians as well."

Check out this commentator’s reaction a Lionel Messi goal at the World Cup:

7. Can selfies attract tourists to NZ?
Tourism New Zealand has recently been running a low cost social media marketing campaign, where some of the world’s top social media influencers on Instagram were brought out to travel the country in return for posting about their experiences.

The six social media gurus brought out have a combined 700,000 followers and generated an average of 4,000 likes per post they made during their trip!

Tourism New Zealand's research shows that Independent Professionals in Australia use social media to help inform them when they make decisions about holiday destinations. In fact, for many social media is their first source of travel information

"Leveraging the existing social media networks of our influencers has added another layer to our campaign because we have been able to showcase New Zealand's amazing scenery while also gaining advocacy for New Zealand as a holiday destination and for the authentic experiences on offer here.

"Not only have we been able to deliver high quality, inspiring imagery to a large and highly engaged audience through our influencers' social media channels, we have also gained some amazing imagery that we can use in our own social channels to further support the campaign."

8. Doing away with roaming charges
Data charges when roaming are daylight robbery, so travellers become pretty adept at sniffing out free WIFI hotspots around towns they visit.

A New Zealand company (TRNZ) is helping solve this dilemma, with digital travel guides for cars that double as WIFI hotspots.

TRNZ also happen to be looking to expand with equity raised via crowd funding (note: this is not investment advice, do your homework before deciding what to do with your pennies).

TRNZ is currently producing new In-Car technology to be delivered via an Android device. This new technology will add functionality to the current In-Car device by having point to point navigation and Wi-Fi hotspot integration. This new technology has been in development since March 2014 and is currently in early stage testing in preparation for rollout by late 2015.

9. The funny side to one star ratings
Providing reviews and reading them are such integral components of all the various travel apps and booking mechanisms available to the modern tourist.

I generally only look at stuff with a reasonable review, but perhaps for entertainment purposes I should set my bar lower.  The article looks at a range of New Zealand’s visitor attractions – here are some gems for the wonderfully exciting Rainbow’s End:

‘"The waiting lines for rides are as long as the great wall of china, would rather watch grass grow" – Kazaknz.

"Theme parks from third world countries are better" – lagalag95’

10. Travel advice for Chinese tourists
Apparently alpacas in Fairlie are the next big thing when it comes to attracting Chinese tourists to New Zealand.

With independent travel by Chinese visitors pushing up tourism activity in places off the beaten track, many tourism operators should go out of their way to learn a few greetings in Mandarin and be aware of differences in cultural norms.

But don’t worry, it also turns out that Chinese have been receiving government advice for years on how they should behave in foreign countries.

‘Don't leave footprints on public toilet seats. [No mention of whether standing on the toilet in the first place is good form or not.]

Don’t dry handkerchiefs on lampshades.

Hungarians do not appreciate you smashing their mirrors.’


* Benje Patterson is an economist at Infometrics. He specialises in forecasting and analysis of the transport sector, tourism, fiscal policy, the external sector, and the international economy.

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#1    Don't pull the cheap Xenophobe wisecrack Benje.   It is a serious and real problem in the south and in places like the Lindis Pass and the Kawarau gorge you find yourself scrutinising every oncoming vehicle for signs it's a rental.
Clearly we accept drivers from countries that give licences to people who would not get one in New Zealand.   Some I have followed on the Lindis don't have any idea at all.  Like driving 120km and then coming to a complete stop in the middle of the highway on a tight bend.   Or navigating around a slow bus completely on the wrong side of the road.  Clearly from those countries where if one side of the motorway is busy you just go down the other side.  And that works in that country because they are used to it. 
This is much much more than a simple left hand / right hand mistake.
We have an agreement with those countries.  We should change it for some of them, but not others, and it is a stain on the bureaucracy they won't do it.

KH, I agree totally. Driving in Central Otago is the most dangerous aspect of my life. Last year a pudgy middle aged white Englishman (Budget tourguide) stopped his van of four tourists in the middle of the road (Queenstown to Glenorchy) on a blind sharp bend on a bluff  (with no shoulder) on open road (100 kph).. I was stuck behind praying not to be rear-ended by someone following. They were taking photos of the Earnslaw Steam Boat. Stupid bastards!
People are not concerned abouit the ethnicity or Nationality of dangerous drivers. We are only concerned about our lives and the lives of our friends and family. To turn this into a xenaphobic argument is  stupid- it is not.
I totally suport the guy who took keys. We are liable for our acts and OMMISIONS.  We are legally obliged to act inorder to prevent death and harm. Did that key grabber guy save the lives of those incompetent tourist drivers? The lives of an innocent kiwi family? Very likely. He is a hero in my book.
Our government could practice keeping our own citizens safe before heading to the Middle East to "courageously" fight the USA/Saudi created monster, ISIS. Say, rescue the 29 Kiwis waiting patiently in the bowels of Pike River? Or have the guts to arrest Pirates raping our fishing grouinds. Or keeping our citizens safe from rotten tourist drivers, regardless of where they come from!

Sorry to rain on your myopic parade but the Kiwi driving test is a joke.  I could believe how easy it was compaired to the British version.  Also, the kiwi driving is terrible, being both aggressive and frequently rude.  Finally the roads in New zealand are not even close to international standards and are often badly maintained.  I think those aspects should be addressed before pointing fingers at tourists traveling a long way to spend money in the local economy.  Maybe a bit of understanding is needed?

Dear Generation XY. You have not rained on my parade. Where exactly do you do your driving? Or do you drive? It is easy to be "relaxed" with a situation that does not affect you? I can tell you that most people in Central Otago are deeply concerned- including  careful overseas tourists who are hoping to finish their holiday and leave NZ in one piece (not in a body bag or in a wheelchair). NZ promotes itself as being a safe place to visit.
You are correct. Part of the solution is to upgrade the roads and road signs (make the signs bigger, more fequent and more eye-catching). Bad driving by anybody (NZ or visitor) is a real concern to me. I want to live as long as I can!  The biggest physical (not disease) threat I see out there is not terrorists, but drunk drivers and incompetent drivers.  Their country of origin is immaterial.

Clearly XY you are one of those who are fixed on the dollar over the safety of drivers. That's what you just said. Pretty dippy viewpoint.

#1 As one who has stared at the front of a car approaching on my side of road, I too would like some countries licenses rejected here - but apparently we can't, some dopey NZ government signed a UN Treaty long ago that binds us to them all. We would have to repudiate the Treaty. Unlikely.

If we can sign such an agreement - then we can unsign it. And if we just stopped accepting some countries licences, unilaterally, we just could.

#2 I frequently use Air New Zealand. But it really gets up my nose that to go to Melbourne half of the options are Dunedin/ Auckland/Melbourne. The airline forces us onto that route. Suits them but not me. Fortunately we have Queenstown, with directs into all the Australian east coast majors, possible because there is actual competition there in Queenstown. I imagine the BARNZ group (the 'cartel') will sort that out soon and eliminate the competition element. Then they will run the flights to suit them not us again.

Why no AKL>Mumbai route - that would seems to be an obvious good earner.
Too far for direct flight perhaps.

I talked to an Investment Banker from the City of London last Saturday. She was on holiday in Queenstown. She is paying 1% interest on her UK mortgage. That is $200 per week for a $1,000,000 loan. Just about anyone here could afford that. That in a nutshell is what young NZers are up against. Kiwis are paying 600% (6X) more in interest for money but competing for the same homes.  This is so wrong. This is so unfair. Our Government is wilfully destroying us.

Learn to Social - do you understand why? Do you understand whats different between here and the UK? If not your statement could equally be " why cant we have subsidded fuel costs like the Saudis, equally a South African might ask why can't our 9% mortgage rates be like NZ's 5.5% despite having a different inflation rate, a different level of internal savings as a country (we don't save), different foreign exchange market liquidity, different bond market liquidity..different etc etc ......its not "unfair" is just different and there's plenty around the world you'll want to be different from,

We don't get to cherry pick want we want when we're different, and I can assure you pensioners and other people living off fixed income sure don't want your 1% interest rates, indeed even if youre young now, neither does your super fund if you plan to retire sometime. And, if you could get 1% mortgage rates and could borrow 1-2 million that you could then service, will this be the first time in the history of mankind that interest rate wont rise again? How's your debt servicing on that 1-2 million then, exactly the same as what will happen to others and who may well end up "gifting" their homes to others if the timing is poor.

Did you just compare Wellington to Invercargill? OK.
BARNZ is a lobby group for Air New Zealand, btw. Air New Zealand have a long term strategy to hub out of Auckland so they of course they are lobbying as hard against the establishment of competitive routes which connect Wellington with Asia and allow lower North Islanders to bypass the cattle line at Mangere.
Air NZ have recently closed their last long haul out of Christchurch. The route was profitable, btw. So we know what Air NZ thinks about non-Auckland New Zealand.
A runway extension might not be in the interests on Air NZ shareholders or Aucklanders, but it is certainly in the interests of Wellington and the region and as such I'm happy for my council to spent on the required infrastructure.

As a welly rate payer im happy to spend a bit on extending the runway.. who cares what some aucklander originally from invercargal thinks.

I think you'll find Benje lives in Wellington.

(Irrelevant comment deleted, Ed. See our commenting policy here -

#2 Benje - yr too negative, get with the program: the solution is that the Councils should own an Airline too to go with their (and infratils) nice new runway.

And when a private company (AirNZ) lobbies against regional development and against competition that's the wonderful free market at work.

Ditto for the fact that the PM waded in with an opinion as well;

Highly suspect motivations there.

What good could we do with $300million? or better what about ppl already struggling with ever increasing rates? and not burden them more. On top of that consider that fossil fuel and Jet A1 in particular is history, it has maybe 15 years of mass transit left in it so doing this makes no sense on that level alone.

Sir Bob Geldedorf says humans will be extinct in 30 years, so this means we will have to spend our last 15 at home! Now I am really worried.

Well Benje I couchsurf and hitchhike, both have made for some memorable moments. One of the attractions is that when someone picks you up hitchhiking they want nothing from you other than your company.

Many different angles have taught be that the traditional motel/hotel is a pretty sterile experience. Tourism is also pretty damaging to a local economy, contrary to the popular economic view. Couchsurfing really is a fantastic concept that I hope holds together, although it is already showing signs of decay.

Unlike most of the talk around here you are looking at two ways to experience life that isn't monetised. While joy seems to be an emotion that moderm society is starved off I get a lot from both.

Really interesting counchsurf was travelling with my retired father and being hosted for three days by a 55 year old woman in New York!

They can't extract equity from their investments in the region below 20% equity in regional portfolio, and at 20% in region that's very safe considering much better yields and much better supported/ fundamentally justified prices there.

Auck prices are supported largely by sentiment which can change overnight.

The rbnz move is sensible and considers the relative risks between auck (extremely high as idiots pile in to get free $) and the regions which is low risk good value.