The Tourism Slow-Down
February 4 2019 by David Gibbs
The Tourism Slow-Down. There was confirmation last week that the tectonic growth in tourism numbers into New Zealand might be slowing. The Air NZ quarterly update forecasted a softening inbound demand, with Chinese arrival numbers in November down 4%. It’s hardly surprising; the very unstable political and economic environments in countries around the world is sure to have a knock-on effect. China, one of New Zealand’s biggest tourism markets, was the obvious one with a trade war underway which is slowing their domestic economy and in turn may be having an impact on outbound tourism from China.
While Air New Zealand has confirmed this trend last week in its profit outlook, the news is not new to a number of businesses in Queenstown who track growth closely. Anecdotally, some businesses found last winter quieter and certainly the shoulder season was more pronounced than the previous year. A slowdown in growth is a good thing in my view. It may provide a breather that I think is sorely needed – an opportunity for Queenstown to get back on track. This summer it has been really difficult for many businesses to find staff. Immigration NZ is slow to process visas and this is having a real impact on businesses’ ability to retain staff. This in turn means that some businesses can’t operate as they normally would, with some putting staff on double shifts, limiting their services or limiting their opening hours. All this means is that the product we deliver to visitors is not as good as it should be and that ultimately isn’t sustainable.
A couple of years of no growth wouldn’t be bad thing. We still have a large number of tourists visiting for a comparatively low number of permanent residents. A reprieve in growth would give the town an opportunity to plan and learn to manage the tourist numbers we currently get. It would give Queenstown time to complete some of those bigger projects and it’d be great for locals as it will allow for better traffic flow and easier parking. Immigration NZ could get their processes back up to a reasonable speed (I’m not holding my breath though). Business may be able to get the right amount of staff they need. Perhaps there will be less demand on accommodation and the staff can find somewhere to live at a reasonable cost. Perhaps there will be more ‘local’ deals. We like that!
All in all, I welcome a slowdown in tourist growth in Queenstown. It has felt as though growth, while always welcome, was not able to continue at the recent pace in a sustainable way. Perhaps the fact that some of our most popular inbound tourist countries are having uncertain domestic times, and their populations are not travelling to New Zealand as much, is a blessing in disguise. I know Air NZ might not like it but I do!
Commercial Operations Manager