Why UK market’s ‘a slow burn’

London calling: Outgoing RealNZ sales GM Jules Savill and Totally Tourism sales manager Brad Patterson by London's Tower Bridge early this month

Having played the part of a tourist in the Netherlands and England, PHILIP CHANDLER reverses roles by sussing out the prospects for the United Kingdom/European long-haul markets this coming summer, after bumping into some tourism marketers in London

Brits and Europeans are arguably Queenstown’s best visitors — they stay the longest and spend more than most — but as international tourism re-emerges from its Covid slumber, just don’t expect too many of them.

That’s the message from local tourism marketers who attended Tourism New Zealand’s recent Kiwi Link travel trade ‘expo’ in London.

Totally Tourism sales manager Brad Patterson calls the United Kingdom market ‘‘a slow burn’’.

‘‘There’s the desire to come, but it’s just going to take a wee bit of time.

‘‘It’s like you’ve got an old rusty wheel — it just takes a bit of time to slowly grease it to get it back up to where you want it to go.

‘‘There’s no denying the fact we were a little bit slower than Australia to turn around and say, ‘yes, we’re open for business’.’’

Traditionally, summer business out of the UK and Europe used to start in October, but because NZ was slow to reopen, we won’t see much till January, February and March, Patterson says.

He adds the main constraint, however, is air connectivity — ‘‘there’s just not seats on planes to be able to get down to NZ at the moment’’.

That’s in contrast to the United States — indeed, Patterson understands there’ll be more direct flights from the US to NZ than to Australia.

NZ’s also just one direct flight from the US, says Queenstown-based Trish May, who heads sales representation service, NZ Travel Collective.

‘‘UK, Europe, it’s a two-hop trip on a good day, so you’re dependent on that whole airline eco-system to get you here.’’

It also takes, she says, ‘‘a very considered decision for someone from the UK to come down here’’.

‘‘The travel agents we were dealing with, they’re looking at not only our coming summer, but next summer, ’23/’24.’’

May says many of the first post-pandemic visitors are from the VFR (visiting friends and relatives) market, ‘‘which is understandable — a lot of UK people have connections in NZ’’.

Tourism NZ boss Rene de Monchy, interviewed in London, says figures bear that out.

Tourists need resilience: Tourism NZ chief executive Rene de Monchy

In May, admittedly during a less fashionable time for long-haul visitors, 73% of UK visitors ticked VFR, he notes.

Pre-Covid, of the $17 billion NZ earned from overseas visitors, $2.7b came from UK and Europe, ‘‘so it’s really big’’, De Monchy says.

‘‘They go for the longest length of stay, go to the most regions, so they’re really highly valuable visitors.’’

Like May, however, he says this market has ‘‘a long booking window’’.

He concedes factors like inflation, stockmarket instability and the Ukraine war potentially affect this market — ‘‘it’s very hard to pick, is this a plus or minus 10% or 20%?’’

He also observes travel’s a bit harder than it used to be, ‘‘so I think you’ve got to be a bit more resilient to travel at the moment’’.

‘‘You’ve got to be willing to take the risk, ‘am I going to have to wait five hours at the airport?’

‘‘I certainly hear that anecdotally, ‘oh, I might wait till year two’, but some people are [still] taking the plunge.’’

De Monchy personally sees long-haul tourism being ‘‘a three-to-five-year rebuild’’.

He also admits NZ faces an awful amount of competition from other destinations, many with bigger marketing budgets — ‘‘we have to work harder than we did pre-Covid’’.

Concerning ‘flight shaming’, where people are nervous about long-haul flights because of their carbon emissions, he says it’s ‘‘a consumer trend we’re always going to have to look at’’.

‘‘What we found from some research we did, pre-Covid, is people said, ‘look, my big trip to NZ is for my wellbeing.

‘‘‘It’s about me being a better person or exploring the world, and I’d rather give up my frivolous short-haul trip or an unnecessary business trip.’

‘‘But the reality is, unless you’re in the cruise market, it’s pretty hard to get to NZ without a plane.’’

Meanwhile, he salutes the Queenstown operators who attended Kiwi Link in London and, earlier, in Los Angeles, in the US.

‘‘Queenstown is a tourism capital for the country and always, at these events, it’s well represented.’’

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