NZ sees Thailand at heart of SE Asia in push for more visitors
New Zealand this year is placing greater emphasis on attracting tourists from Southeast Asia, where it considers Thailand to be a hub within the emerging region.
Mischa Mannix-Opie, Tourism New Zealand's regional manager for South and Southeast Asia, yesterday described Thailand as one of the country's important tourism markets.
While declining to predict how many Thai tourists would visit her country this year, she said the trend was good because no major natural disasters had hit the Kingdom since 2011 to undermine tourists' sentiment.
From February 2012 to January this year, 16,928 Thai tourists travelled to New Zealand, representing a 3-per-cent drop from the previous 12-month period. Thailand's severe flooding in late 2011 is blamed for the decline.
During the same period, Singapore accounted for the highest number of Southeast Asian visitors with 35,968, followed by Malaysia with 28,368. Some 12,384 Indonesians visited the country.
Last year, the island-nation welcomed more than 510,000 visitors from Asia, an 11-per-cent increase from the previous year, thanks largely to more arrivals from China.
New Zealand's tourism market from Asian arrivals was worth more than NZ$1.3 billion (Bt32 billion), while the South and Southeast Asian market was valued at more than NZ$260 million.
Thai market to the fore
The authorities in Wellington have promoted the country's tourism in Asia for a long time. Given the growing importance of Southeast Asia, the country has now decided to promote itself more in the region, and Thailand has been chosen as the first nation for such a move, said Mannix-Opie.
During Monday and Tuesday this week, it held an event called "Kiwi Link South and Southeast Asia 2013" in Bangkok, at which 44 travel agents from five nations - India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - were invited to meet with 38 New Zealand tourism operators, so that the country could update its tourism products.
Twelve Thai travel agents attended the event.
Mannix-Opie acknowledged that the regional tourism industry was highly competitive, with all countries promoting their tourism to help drive their economies.
In 2011, international tourism was considered a key export earner for New Zealand. Its revenue from foreign tourists totalled NZ$9.7 billion, creating 179,800 full-time jobs. Foreign income also contributed 8.6 per cent to the nation's gross domestic product. "Travel agents across South and Southeast Asia are keys to our success in growing visitor arrivals to New Zealand. The '100-per-cent Pure New Zealand Specialist Programme' is one way of showing our commitment to the trade industry by assigning them in growing their capability to sell New Zealand," she said, adding that the programme would help agents boost the understanding of New Zealand tourism products.
Thai travel agents attending this week's event said the tourism products on show were interesting. However, the problem is that the cost of travel to New Zealand is not cheap, and that some associated costs were also on the rise.
Visa fees were cited as an example. The fees have increased by Bt800 to Bt2,900 for group travellers, and to Bt5,100 for individuals.
The visa fee for accompanying tour guides has also increased, by Bt800 to Bt7,900.
Moreover, the time required to complete the visa application process via an appointed agency has also risen, to 10-15 days from five to seven days previously.
At present, a five-day/three-night travel package to New Zealand costs at least Bt55,000. Travel agents said that for this amount, tourists could fly to Europe, where cities such as London and Paris offer a host of tourism activities from shopping sprees to visiting museums. With New Zealand being more of a niche market, especially for those who love natural beauty, the average tourist with that sort of money to spend will likely choose to go to Europe instead in order to fulfill their dreams, they added.