Chinese tourists to NZ rise to an annual record in April

Chinese tourists visiting New Zealand rose to an annual record in April, helping push total visitor arrivals to a new high.

Visitor numbers from China rose 26% to a record 302,128 in the year through April, Statistics New Zealand said in a statement. Total annual visitor arrivals increased 6.7% to 2.96 million.

China is expected to overtake Australia as the biggest tourism market in expenditure terms within seven years, although Australia will likely to continue to be the largest source of tourists, according to forecasts published this week by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The data published today showed Australian tourism numbers increased 3% to 1.27 million in the year through April, more than four times the number of Chinese visitors. MBIE expects Australian tourism numbers to increase at a 3% annual rate over the next seven years, compared with China's 11.6% gain.

"China continues to see impressive growth," Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said.

Most of the latest increase in Chinese visitors came from holidaymakers, the statistics agency said.

Chinese holidaymakers increased 27% to 225,680 in the year through April, while the total number of visitors who came to New Zealand for a vacation rose 9.7% to 1.44 million, the agency said.

Holidaymakers and those visiting friends and relatives are counted on as the biggest drivers of an expected 48% growth of international tourist spending by 2021 to $1.11 billion, according to the MBIE forecasts released during New Zealand's annual Trenz tourism conference in Rotorua this week.

According to Chinese travel agencies at the Trenz conference, New Zealand has transformed itself from a drop-by place for Chinese tourists on their way to Australia into a destination worth repeated visits. Following that trend is a shift in Chinese tourist tastes from package tours to free independent travelling and more in-depth experience.

Tourism NZ said holiday arrivals had also increased visitors from New Zealand's other Asian target markets. In the year through April, holiday arrivals from Japan were up 19.5%, Korea 19.5%, Singapore 12%, Malaysia 15.9% and Thailand 17.6%.

(Anna Lu is a journalist for the Shanghai Daily news service, on an Asia-NZ Foundation internship with BusinessDesk.)