TOURISM operators must turn their attention toward the growing Australian and Asian markets as visitor numbers from the US and UK continue to fall, an economist says.
Statistics New Zealand yesterday reported visitor numbers for the year ended May were up 1 per cent to 2.5 million, but UK and US markets were down 11.4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.
Income and the kiwi dollar were two drivers of tourism flows to New Zealand, said Philip Borkin of Goldman Sachs.
"Overseas travel's a luxury good and as we know most of the developed world is still getting its feet back on the ground after a pretty terrible recession so there's still a lot of cautiousness from households," he said.
"We [the dollar] are at high levels against the pound as we are against a number of currencies and so New Zealand is a more expensive destination for these people to come and visit."
The UK's Daily Mail this week reported that an ING Direct survey had found two in five Britons would give up their annual getaway to protect finances.
Borkin said there were some big headwinds for traditional source countries to visit New Zealand.
"This is something that's probably not going to change very soon and if you're involved in the industry I suppose it's a question of maybe altering your expectations about where these arrivals will come from and then maybe changing your business models to accommodate that.
"So maybe more Australians and more from Asia is really where the focus should begin to head."
Chinese arrivals were up strongly, Borkin said.
Chinese visitor numbers were up 27.5 per cent for the year ended May at 130,408, while Malaysia, India and Singapore grew by 32.7 per cent, 13.3 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.
Seasonally adjusted Australian arrivals had bounced back, Borkin said.
"I think it's that kiwi, aussie [exchange rate] that's again supportive.
"We just have to hope I suppose that the ski season's a good one to see that growth maintained," he said.
"While it's a mixed bag in terms of who are arriving I think we should take some encouragement that given the circumstances things are holding up okay."
James Coddington, chief executive of NZSki, which runs the Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt and Remarkables ski areas, said the slopes were closed because of unseasonably warm weather.
"This is the latest we've ever opened in 20 years since our investment in snow making," Coddington said.
The company has some snow on the ground and needed two more suitable days to be able to produce enough to open.
"We're very close and it's just extremely frustrating we're just not getting those cold temperatures."
Forecasts were looking good for tomorrow and the weekend.
"We'll believe it when we see it," he said.
Tourism New Zealand said recent increased capacity from China, Malaysia and Singapore had contributed to the May arrival figures, without which arrivals would have been down considerably.
Arrivals from the UK and US continued to be challenged by the effects of the global financial crisis.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said: "Prioritising growth in Asia and Australia remains the right thing to do in light of continued challenges in attracting visitors from our traditionally strong markets of the UK and USA."
Short-term visitor arrivals, year ended May:
1.1m: up 0.8pc
221,483: down 11.4pc
189,250: down 3pc
130,408: up 27.5pc
79,699: down 1.2pc
2.5m, up 1pc
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