Chinese travel regulations trim tourist numbers, encourage broader experience
New Chinese travel regulations have prompted a drop-off in the number of tourists coming to New Zealand, though the local industry is expected to reap the financial rewards from visitors getting a better experience, according to Tourism New Zealand
Government figures show the number of Chinese visitors coming to New Zealand for a short stay has dropped for three straight months since the start of October. That's when a new Chinese travel law was introduced to stop tour operators subsidising tour prices by packing itineraries with selective shopping destinations.
The knock-on effect has been a 25 to 30 percent rise in the retail price of New Zealand tours promoted in China, Tourism NZ chief executive Kevin Bowler told BusinessDesk.
As a result Chinese tourists who do visit are staying longer and travelling more widely in New Zealand, with the South Island outperforming the rest of the country in terms of Chinese visitors, Bowler said. More tours were coming to New Zealand as a single destination, rather than as a stop off before or after Australia, and are spending longer and travelling more widely in the country.
"The absolute numbers are down, but the quality of the outcome is up," Bowler said. "If it wasn't for the law change that trend would have come about, but over the next few years. This has brought it on quickly."
Government figures show short-term Chinese visitor arrivals were up 51 percent in September from the same month a year earlier. After the introduction of the new Chinese regulation, visitor arrivals dropped 12 percent in October, followed by a 16 percent decline in November and an 11 percent fall in December.
Annual growth in the number of Chinese visitors was tracking at 27 percent to 236,336 in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, slowing to an annual gain of 16 percent to 228,928 in calendar 2013.
In 2012, the government launched NZ Inc Opening the Doors to China as part of an effort to deepen ties with the world's second biggest economy. Part of the scheme included raising Chinese tourism in New Zealand 60 percent by 2015, a goal that appears largely met with a gain of 73 percent in short-term visitors since 2011.
"The New Zealand Inc strategy aims to boost the number of Chinese tourists travelling to New Zealand," a Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said. "The new Chinese regulations are a matter for the Chinese government however, we welcome all measures to improve tourists' experiences in New Zealand."
The recent drop in Chinese visitor numbers was also felt in a reduced number of people coming on business. Government figures show the number of people coming to do business from China fell 43 percent in December from a year earlier, and were down an annual 18 percent.
Tourism NZ's Bowler said China's government has clamped down on spending, and that's seen a reduction in the size of visiting delegations. Some 3,800 Chinese government delegation visitors came to New Zealand in the second half of last year, compared to 7,222 for the same period the previous year, he said.
"That proportion is down considerably. A new government regime in China has implemented austerity measures, meaning the reduction of public spending, so we're seeing that in less travel," Bowler said.
"What you see from China, unlike in the Western world, is leisure is quite intermingled with business. On a trip it would be half business half leisure, and that would be quite normal," he said.