High dollar, natural disasters blamed for international visitors spending less

As Western tourists shun New Zealand, the Asian market continues to go from strength to strength.

International visitor spending dropped to $5.6 billion for the year to June, but the government says the fall is not as large as might have been feared after the Christchurch earthquake and Chilean ash cloud.

Research from the Ministry of Economic Development showed the overall spend fell 6.5 percent. In particular, British and American tourists shelled out 18 and 14 percent less respectively.

Spending by Australians, our biggest market, dropped by almost six percent as holidaymakers made use of their strong dollar in other markets.

The MED's tourism research and evaluation manager, Peter Ellis, said the drop in spending was consistent with the previous International Visitor Survey, which covered the year to March.

The average spend per visitor was $2,611, down 7.4 percent on the previous year.

“Spending by international tourists has been dropping for over a year even though the number arriving remains pretty constant. One significant reason tourists are spending less per visit still appears to be the extremely high New Zealand dollar in relation to currencies other than the Australian dollar,” Ellis said.

He said the number of Australian residents visiting New Zealand to see friends and relatives was increasing, while higher-spending holidaymakers were decreasing in number and spent 11 percent less than in the previous year.

“The Christchurch earthquakes and the flight schedule havoc caused by the Chilean volcano haven’t damaged tourism as much as feared. These adverse events had their main impact during what is always the low tourism season. On an annual basis the arrivals have held up and spending hasn’t collapsed.”

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said the results, while disappointing, reflected the challenges of a high currency and natural events.

"Given the high New Zealand dollar, slow economic recovery in the US and Europe and the impact of natural events that have hit New Zealand, Japan and Australia hard, it's not surprising," he said.

"On a positive note, the decrease is not considered as large as may have been anticipated and spending by visitors from China and Korea continue to show strong growth.

He said Chinese visitor spending – which recorded the largest increase at 12.4 percent at $410 million – was closing in on the US $443 million visitor economy and could soon overtake it.

Spending by Korean tourists also continued to increase. Koreans currently account for four percent of international tourist expenditure in New Zealand, and Chinese for seven percent.

The survey draws on a sample of 5,200 departing international visitors per year.

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