During a state visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, New Zealand announced 2019 as the New Zealand-China Tourism Year, as well as a diverse range of initiatives and strategies that aim to improve tourism flows between the two countries. For New Zealand, attracting affluent independent Chinese travelers during the off-season is described as one of the primary goals of the enhanced tourism cooperation, which aims to add NZ$1.7 billion (US$1.19 billion) to the New Zealand economy every year.
For New Zealand, China has quickly become an important tourism market with strong growth—with Chinese visitors now only outnumbered by visitors from neighboring Australia. Last year, New Zealand received 409,000 Chinese visitors, a 14.9 percent increase on the figure for the previous year, representing an increase of over 100 percent in the last five years.
In a deal made between the Chinese and New Zealand governments, New Zealand has raised the number of flights that can be operated between the two countries effective immediately. The new agreement allows 59 passenger flights between China and New Zealand per week, a 20 percent increase on the previous agreement. The new agreement follows solid double-digit growth of Chinese tourism in New Zealand over the past few years and is the third time in four years that the quota has been increased. According to the New Zealand government, the two countries are moving toward a so-called open skies agreement, which would lift all quotas on air services. Sichuan Airlines, which commences service between China and New Zealand in June this year, makes the sixth Chinese airline to operate flights between the two countries.
In addition to the increased air capacity allowed between China and New Zealand, Prime Minister Bill English also announced the 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism during a state visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The designated tourism year follows the 2018 EU-China Tourism year, and this year’s China-Australia Tourism Year. While China’s many recent tourism years have shown little to no effect on tourism growth in any designated year, they are often preceded by agreements and changes in visa policies that encourage increased tourism flows. For example, before the 2016 U.S.-China Tourism Year, the United States rolled out a ten-year tourism visa for Chinese travelers—an initiative lauded for encouraging repeat visits by affluent Chinese travelers. Similarly, New Zealand announced the extension of Chinese multiple-entry visas from three years to five years, as well as allowing Chinese visitors to use e-passport gates at its airports.
While statements about tourism years are often boiled down to standard statements about “enhanced cultural exchange,” New Zealand is more open with its ambitions for the strengthened tourism cooperation with China. “Our focus now is on encouraging tourists to visit outside of the peak season and to explore our regions, as well as our most iconic destinations. With 409,000 Chinese visiting our shores last year there is an incredible amount of potential to deliver even more benefits to our national and regional economies by pursuing these goals,” New Zealand Tourism Minister Paula Bennett said in a statement. Bennett also added that the main focus is to attract “high-value Chinese visitors who stay longer, spend more, and travel independently.”
With improved visa policies, popularity among Chinese self-drive and adventure tourists, as well as growing number of direct flight connections to China, New Zealand may just be well-positioned to realize its goals for the 2019 New Zealand-China Tourism Year.