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Kevin Bowler, CEO, Tourism New Zealand
TRENZ (Tourism Rendezvous New Zealand) is New Zealand’s annual international travel trade event. Held in May in Queenstown, it attracted more than 300 buyers, including 23 from the U.S. The U.S. figure was higher than expected after a difficult year for tourism, according to Kevin Bowler, chief executive officer of Tourism New Zealand. We spoke with Bowler about New Zealand’s tourism industry, its marketing plans and expectations that the upcoming “Hobbit” movies will promote tourism to the country as the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy did.
How important is tourism to New Zealand and how has the industry been performing so far this year? International tourist expenditures totaled NZ$9.7 billion (roughly $7.3 billion U.S.) and accounted for nearly 180,000 jobs in 2011. Tourism contributes nearly 9 percent to our GDP. It’s so significant for New Zealand that our prime minister is also our minister of tourism.At the year ending in March 2012 we had a total of 2.6 million tourists, up more than 4 percent over year-end March 2011.
How does the U.S. rank as a visitor market for New Zealand? The U.S. is our third largest market behind Australia and the U.K. The U.S. accounted for 184,000 visitors by year-end March 2012, which was down about 4 percent from year-end March 2011. We attribute this to the weak U.S. economy and an exchange rate that’s not as favorable as it has been. Australia has become expensive for Americans and it’s dragged New Zealand down with it. Repeat travelers to New Zealand from the U.S. may visit our country alone, but first-timers visit in combination with a trip to Australia.
What international markets are you targeting for growth? In the next 10 years Asia will more important to us than the West. That includes China first followed by India and Indonesia. China is now our fourth largest visitor market behind Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. Chinese arrivals increased nearly 24 percent to 160,000 year-end March 2012. Having said that we’re not giving up on our western long-haul markets like the U.S. It’s a balancing act for us between our western markets and the emerging Asian markets.
What is your strategy for marketing New Zealand tourism? We’re now starting the third year of a three-year marketing plan. Our efforts are aimed at closing the gap between the desire to visit and action. We’re keeping our “100% Pure You” message but we’re dropping the “You.” “100% Pure You” was introduced to highlight the experiences that you can have during a trip to New Zealand, in addition to seeing beautiful landscapes. Our strategy to show a visitor’s experience remains the same, but we don’t think we need the “you” to achieve that objective. Our plans include using highly-targeted digital media for most of our paid media investments, growing our use of social media, using our website, www.newzealand.com, to inspire and inform and leveraging major events like “The Hobbit” in our marketing and public relations. Our website, re-launched last July, changed from a traditional site offering information and listings into an interactive format in which people can upload articles, make comments and add contacts. We gained the shock value of the change, but we’re now testing new means of making the site easier to navigate. Also our partnerships with overseas travel trade, airlines and New Zealand operators are expected to exceed NZ$25 million ($19 million U.S.) in additional funding for 2012.
Do you think “The Hobbit” movies, set for release in December 2012 and December 2013, will boost tourism to New Zealand? We know that “The Lord of the Rings” movies raised awareness of New Zealand as a destination and that many visitors came because of them. The period when the movies were out was very active for the U.S. market. We’re as up about “The Hobbit” as we were about “The Lord of the Rings.” “The Hobbit” films represent a massive opportunity to elevate the promotion of New Zealand. We think the new movies will help in all visitor segments. Our message in terms of “The Hobbit” is “New Zealand -- where fantasy is reality.” We will blend Hobbit themes with the visitor experience.
What markets should American travel agents target for New Zealand? Our strongest market from the U.S. is the traditional one composed of travelers in their late 50s and early 60s with more time to spend on vacation. They are outdoorsy and into nature. Next would be couples in their 20s and 30s who don’t have kids yet. Americans also are the number one market for New Zealand’s luxury segment. Our priority sectors for the U.S. include youth travel, cruise business and business events. In terms of top interest areas, they are premium and honeymoon travel, plus activities like guided hiking, skiing and cycling.
What kind of market is New Zealand for luxury travel? The luxury segment has been growing over the last 10 years. Luxury properties like the Huka Lodge in Taupo have been around for a while but there are so many others now. New Zealand is not a volume player in terms of numbers of visitors so we make the most of it. Influencing the growth of the luxury market is the development in the last 30 years of our wine industry and the Asian influence on our cuisine. This last can’t be overestimated. Put it all together and we have fabulous luxury lodges, premier golf, guided walks, fine food and wine.
Robin Amster is a frequent contributor to TravelPulse.com, Agent@Home magazine and Vacation Agent magazine. She attended TRENZ in May.
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