WELLINGTON, March 12 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand's tourism industry is in "a bit of a perfect storm" -- faced with a high-valued currency, declining traditional markets, and the need to adapt quicker to emerging markets, particularly in China, an industry expert said Wednesday.
While the country was welcoming record numbers of overseas visitors, there was a trend of a "declining yield" -- falling average spending -- from tourists, Professor Simon Milne, director of Auckland University of Technology's New Zealand Tourism Research Institute, told Xinhua.
Milne was speaking the same day the government statistics agency announced that international guest nights in January had remained unchanged from the previous month despite a record 292, 400 overseas visitors that month due to the Chinese New Year holiday period.
He said the figures were probably explained by a large proportion of the visitors staying with friends and relatives rather than at commercial accommodation, but the problem of getting overseas visitors to contribute more to the New Zealand economy was a long-term one.
"The bottom line is that we do have this issue that's been around for a few years now of declining yield," Milne said in a phone interview.
"It reflects a major problem that we have as an economy."
The industry could either focus on a growth in numbers, which would continue to lift overall expenditure, but might appear at odds with the country's "100 percent Pure" and clean and green marketing image, or it could focus on attracting bigger-spending travelers, he said.
Total spending by international visitors was up 5 percent last year to 6.67 billion NZ dollars (5.64 billion U.S. dollars), but each visitor spent 1 percent less on average at just 2,760 NZ dollars (2,335 U.S. dollars), according to figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment last month.
Australia remained New Zealand's largest tourism market, with Australian visitors spending 2.2 billion NZ dollars (1.81 billion U.S. dollars) last year, but their average spending fell by 3 percent.
Visitors from China, the second biggest market, spent a total of 732 million NZ dollars (604.36 million U.S. dollars), up 7 percent, but their average spending fell by 14 percent.
Tourism contributes directly and indirectly almost 9 percent of New Zealand's gross domestic product and directly provides more than one in 20 full-time equivalent jobs, making it a pillar industry.
The government's Tourism New Zealand agency had focused marketing on free, independent travelers in countries such as China in a move away from the "traditional" package tour visitor, but this was yet to yield significant results, he said.
"Strategically that's the way we have to go. The challenge is whether our industry is ready to provide what the higher-yield tourists want," said Milne.
"The trouble is that we never really focus on the other side of the equation to get the industry more internationally focused."
The policy was struggling against the headwinds of the high New Zealand dollar, greater economic insecurity in traditional markets such as the United States and Britain since 2008, and a lack of proper understanding of new segments of markets such as China.
"You could argue at the moment that we need to provide more in value for money, but I think it's really about understanding that there are certain things we need to do better," he said.
Among the improvements required are: better training of the work force; better service quality in hotels and restaurants and other tourism-related businesses; more research to understand visitor markets; and new uses of technology, such as using social media to market the country.
Milne said the country was facing more competition than ever before for tourists from emerging markets.
"This is a sector where you can't sit back and let things go. There is still more work that we have to do."