The global financial crisis is already impacting the travel and tourism industry and the effects are particularly being felt in faraway destinations such as New Zealand.
The Pacific nation reported that visitor arrivals were down 6.6 per cent in September, a decline of 11,000 people from September 2007 figures.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton said the low numbers were a direct result of the worst depression the world is facing since the 1930s. “It is clear that New Zealand tourism is facing difficult times as a result of the financial crisis and that things will be even more challenging in 2009,” he was quoted as saying by local media. “Because tourism is based largely on discretionary income we will definitely see an impact on the tourism industry.”
Tourism is an industry that is especially vulnerable to financial slowdowns with consumers spending less on travel products and experiences in the short and medium terms. New Zealand has already has seen a drop in visitors from all its major source markets, including China and the UK. The decline ranged from three per cent for traditional markets such as Australia to five per cent for the UK and more than ten per cent for China, the USA and Canada.
As long-haul travel becomes increasingly unaffordable, New Zealand now expects Australia to become even more important to achieving its tourism targets.
The UAE exports some 5,000 visitors to New Zealand annually. The year ending February 2008 saw 1,909 holiday arrivals from the UAE, the rest being wholesalers and business people. Earlier this year, Tourism New Zealand moved marketing responsibilities for the GCC states to its UK office, while ramping up online training and resources for the region’s travel trade.
However, tourism authorities are taking steps to remedy the drop in tourists.
Speaking at a conference in Christchurch last month, New Zealand tourism minister Damien O’Connor announced a cash injection to the tune of $143 million for the battered industry. He said the money would go towards bettering the four main areas which affect holidaymakers in the country: the environment, offshore marketing, tourism research and workforce issues.
Tourism is a key contributor to the culturally vibrant country’s GDP, accounting for 9.2 per cent of the total, according to a government funded Statistics New Zealand report. The industry supports 9.7 per cent of New Zealand’s total work force or 181,000 full time jobs.
O’Connor has been a strong champion of New Zealand’s ability to offer unmatched levels of service. He said earlier that the appeal of the country was rooted in its tourist industry’s unrelenting efforts to provide a world- lass holiday experience.
“Only by offering authentic and unique visitor experiences and delivering high levels of customer service will the tourism industry be able to remain competitive and deliver on the goals set out in the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2015, which highlights the need for New Zealand to deliver a world class visitor experience in order to stay ahead in what is a highly competitive industry globally,” he said. Hickton added that the tourist authority would strive to keep the island country on the tourist map. “Tourism New Zealand is focused on maintaining our efforts in key markets where it is important we retain a high profile,” he said.
In related news, the country’s convention organisers have been lobbying for a new, $116 million state-of-the-art congress facility to house 3,000 people. Tim Cossar, TIA chief executive, said he believed such a new facility would help the country pull in business that is now going to Australia, which has larger facilities than its neighbour in the southern hemisphere.
A nation of some four million people, New Zealand is known for its rugged beauty, abundant culture, gourmet food and wine and its endless choice of unique experiences. Its popularity has been boosted in recent years thanks to its being the location for several Hollywood films, including the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy. Its appeal as a green, eco-friendly destination is often cited by travellers when stating the reasons behind choosing New Zealand for their holidays.
The country hopes its screen success will bring in tourists from other source markets, and in recent months, it has wooed both the Korean and Indian film industries.
by Clark Kelly