Queenstown’s valuable Indian tourism market’s been hit by delays in Immigration New Zealand processing visitor visas.
Visitor numbers and spending from the world’s second largest population had been steadily growing in recent years, however holiday arrivals into NZ dropped 11.3 per cent in the year to the end of August.
Opposition National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi says it was taking somewhere between 30 and 90 days to process visitor visas.
Intending visitors “can’t wait 90 days for a visa, so this government is totally out of touch with how things are happening in immigration”.
Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd says: “It is a real shame because there has been some real momentum over a number of years.
“Queenstown is one of the primary destinations for Indian visitors.”
They particularly like to travel in May – one of the resort’s quietest months – so the drop-off in their numbers was probably a reason this May was so quiet, he says.
“They’re a brilliant market – they spend well, they’re independent travellers, they’re often in family groups and they come in our shoulder season, so they tick all the boxes from
a value perspective.
“My understanding is the delays were caused by changes in Immigration NZ’s offices and their resourcing, but we’ve been informed, informally, that Immigration NZ believe that they’ve addressed all those problems.”
Local NZONE Skydive business development manager Derek Melnick says the Indian market’s been phenomenal – “it’s consistently been in our top-performing markets”.
He believes the delays in visa processing stemmed from the closure of Immigration NZ’s New Delhi office.
That had led to a drop-off in Indian visitors for about six months running, he says – “it’s been a double-digit decline for some months”.
“We’ve seen quite a cooling in our Indian numbers.”
When he was in India in July on Tourism NZ’s Kiwi Link travel trade promotion, “a number of agents told us that unless customers came actually asking to travel to NZ, it wasn’t something they were putting on the table with great enthusiasm, ‘cos they knew that the visa would have been difficult to get”.
Melnick, however, believes Immigration NZ’s solving the problem by staffing up its Mumbai office.
He says Immigration NZ now states it’s promising to process low-risk visitor visas in 10 days, but notes that last year that timeframe was within six days and the year before, within three days.
Local Novotel hotelier Jim Moore, who was also in India for Kiwi Link, also says some travel agents were recommending other destinations “because of the unreliability of visas and getting them through, which isn’t good for us”.
However, he says some “preferred” agents were still getting reasonably quick processing times.
Moore points out other factors were also affecting the Indian market, such as national elections and both an airline and a large travel agency going bust.
Asked to comment on the issue, Immigration NZ education and tourism national manager Jeannie Melville says there has been a year-on-year increase in demand for visitor visas from Indian nationals, “and these are currently being allocated to an immigration officer within 12 working days”.
Processing times go up for applications that are incomplete or if there are risk factors, though these make up “only a small proportion of total visitor visa applications”.
“In the last three months, over 90 per cent of all general visitor visa applications have been processed within 20 days.
“Only a tiny proportion of applications – under one per cent – take 90 days or more to process.”