Editor’s note: Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express made US$33.58 million in its first three weeks in China, the film’s second highest box office take in the world after the United States. Conspicuous product placement of Godiva chocolates showed brands still believe in the association between early 2oth century train travel and luxury. But does it apply to affluent tourists in China, where long train trips are the plight of the working class?
A new New Zealand venture, dubbed the Antipodean Explorer, is being billed as an “Orient Express-style” experience and the “world’s best moving hotel.” The luxury train is being backed by the Hong Kong investment firm Fuh Wah International Group and will carry 56 passengers, most of whom are expected to be luxury-oriented Chinese tourists to New Zealand.
Currently, the Antipodean Explorer is set to run between Auckland and Queenstown over the course of 6 days, while stopping at 75 locations in the mornings and afternoons for sightseeing. The company hopes that the line will be operational in two years.
New Zealand is becoming an increasingly popular destination for Chinese travelers, with about 400,000 Chinese arrivals in 2016 or growth of 15 percent over 2015. This figure is dwarfed by the 1.4 million Australian arrivals to New Zealand. However, given the substantial cost of travel from China to New Zealand the relative difference in CPI, it’s safe to safe the majority of New Zealand’s Chinese tourists have high spending power.
Chinese demand for New Zealand tours has sent tour and accommodation prices soaring this year.
The Antipodean Explorer would not be an attraction unique to New Zealand; similar lines run elsewhere in Europe and Asia. Indeed, several European operators utilize refurbished cars from the original Orient Express. Moreover, such an attraction is unlikely to drive any large increase in the number arrivals given the exclusive nature of the Antipodean Explorer.
However, the line could bring about benefits even if it isn’t designed to attract a wide range of tourists. New Zealand’s success as a tourism destination has been supported in particular by the country’s scenic landscapes and outdoor offerings, buoyed in part by the country’s association with the Lord of the Rings films. In China, however, “Brand New Zealand” is still not yet firmly established unlike its neighbor Australia.
Much like Western travelers, the country’s outdoors are the main draw for Chinese travelers, with activities like skydiving particularly popular.
High-profile luxury offerings catering to Chinese travelers like the Antipodean Explorer could help raise New Zealand’s profile and improve its brand image in China.
Moreover, Chinese investors, like Fuh Wah, have driven many of the high-profile purchases and investments in the New Zealand tourism industry. Fuh Wah has already made substantial investments in luxury accommodation in Auckland. Another Chinese tourism group recently invested NZD$9 million($6.2 million) into land outside of Auckland, to build accommodations for Chinese tour groups.
The issue has been serious enough that incoming prime minister Jacinda Ardern plans on banning foreign buyers from purchasing existing homes in a bid to curb rises in housing prices, driven largely by Chinese buyers.
Despite many of the negative effects of Chinese investment closely associated with Chinese tourism, New Zealand stands to benefit substantially from Chinese arrivals given that Chinese tourists in New Zealand are largely middle class and wealthy travelers.
As Tourism New Zealand notes, the emergence of free independent travelers (FITs) has been key to recent success with Chinese tourism. FITs tend to be younger and have higher spending power than Chinese travelers on group tours.
This post originally appeared on our sister site, Jing Travel.