Queenstown will benefit strongly as the Chinese visitor market matures.
So says Auckland-based Chris Ireland, the country’s largest inbound operator of Chinese tourists – he’s been bringing groups from China to New Zealand for about 12 years.
More than 70 per cent of Chinese arrivals still don’t make it to Queenstown, he estimates – 116,410 arrived in NZ in the 12 months till October.
Originally, they only visited the country as a tack-on to an Australian holiday – understandable, given there were no direct flights from China till Air NZ started its Shanghai service four years ago, Ireland explains.
It meant Chinese visitors only had a few days in NZ and rarely ventured beyond Auckland, Rotorua and surrounds.
Often they were here on shopping tours, spending money in stores in turn for paying less to get here.
And with the surge in Chinese immigration, Ireland says many took to escorting their own countryfolk around NZ.
There were horror stories of guides ripping off Chinese tourists, charging them for nature walks, for example.
That’s been cleaned up since 2007, with Tourism NZ monitoring the quality of tours, Ireland of Pan Pacific says.
Queenstown’s percentage of Chinese will lift as more arrive on higher-quality tours or travel independently, he believes.
“A NZ-only [tour] is regarded as being very attractive. We’ve got everything the Chinese are looking for, in many ways – the clean air, beautiful scenery, a lack of huge cities, and we’re a very easy flight time away.”
Auckland is still their only gateway, but because flights arrive early in the morning, Ireland says they often travel to Christchurch or beyond in the same day.
Queenstown will also benefit from more business groups, he says – though the Chinese Government wouldn’t let their businessfolk out of Shanghai during the recent six-month world expo there.
“I think Queenstown’s just perfect [for Chinese].
“They tend to enjoy soft adventure more than hard adventure but you’ll get a lot of the young ones who are as adventurous as anyone.”
Air NZ North Asia marketing manager Jessica Yip says the resort will also benefit as “Chinese people are afraid of places that have nothing to do at night”.
Wedding couples wanting pictures in beautiful scenery will also make a bee-line for here, she suggests.
Yip says Air NZ is encouraging more lucrative independent travel as it wants to drive high-end business, filling the front-end of aircraft: “If we do only group travel, that doesn’t really help our yield.”
The only problem is some independent travellers face hurdles getting a visa because their Government fears they might abscond in NZ.
Tourism NZ Asia manager Mark Frood says that issue is being addressed.
Philip Chandler flew to China courtesy of Air New Zealand