The slowing global economy has affected tourism in New Zealand with tourist numbers falling this year. There were 11,100 fewer international visitors to New Zealand in September 2008 compared with September 2007. Visitor numbers are down across most international markets such as China, Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Korea and Japan. The only market to increase was Canada and this is due to Air New Zealand introducing a direct flight from Canada to New Zealand this year. The biggest loss was from China, which is New Zealand’s fourth largest market. The largest market to New Zealand is Australia and there were 2,200 fewer tourists from Australia in September 2008 compared with September 2007.
The decreasing number of tourists has affected most regions in New Zealand and some tourist operators are stressed. Some hotel owners are worried that they will have to heavily discount rates and they may not make any money. Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive George Hickton said the accommodation sector was harder hit than any other area of the tourism industry. All types of accommodation have been affected, especially motels and backpackers, with many tourists deciding to stay with family or friends to save money. Many hotels will try to focus on domestic tourists rather than the international market and New Zealanders may decide it is cheaper to holiday in New Zealand rather than go overseas. Tourist operators think things will become worse next year as at the moment, they still have some pre-paid bookings.
Tourism is very important for the New Zealand economy. The Government raises $1.3 billion in GST from tourism and there are around 108,000 full-time jobs provided directly through tourism and around 74,500 indirectly. Tourism also contributes to other sectors such as transport, retail, construction and insurance.
The news is not all bad though. Jennie Langley from the Hotel Council points out that the hotel industry has been through downturns before with tourist numbers to New Zealand also falling after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Sars threat in 2003. Tourist operators would have to offer better service and good rates to compete and this was good for tourists looking for a bargain. With petrol prices falling recently, there may be more domestic tourism. Destination Queenstown Chief Executive David Kennedy said that 64% of Queenstown’s domestic tourists come from Otago, Southland and Canterbury so this may increase. Kathryn MacDonnell from Venture Southland also said that although international tourist numbers fell, those that were coming to New Zealand were actually spending more.
Contributed by Anita Jones