Professor Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in Hamburg, Germany, said he is convinced that adapting its tourism offering to meet the needs of visitors from China could have huge benefits for the West Coast economy.

Arlt delivered his message at the West Coast Development Think Tank hosted by Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth.

“The Chinese outbound tourism market has grown exponentially from 10 million border crossings in 2000 to a projected 151 million crossings for 2016. Those visitors will spend an estimated US$220 billion in 2016. That is potentially great news for the West Coast, given that there has been an increase of more than 150 per cent in Chinese visitors to New Zealand during the last four years.”

Arlt said, however, that New Zealand and the West Coast have to cater for the specific expectations of its Chinese visitors to take advantage of this opportunity.

“Visitors from China regard travel as an investment rather than as a leisure activity. The ability to travel brings prestige to the traveller and is a confirmation of status amongst their peers. For the West Coast to take advantage of this aspect of the Chinese traveller’s motivation it needs to clearly articulate why it is a prestigious destination that offers the very best experiences in the world in niche areas such as hiking, bird watching or other activities.

“There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ Chinese tourist, many Chinese travellers travel in multi-generational groups with grandparents, parents and children all together, for example so packages need to provide niche, bespoke offerings.”

While visitors from China tend to be time poor they want their travel to be experience rich, said Arlt, and they share their experiences via social media.

“Visitors from China are constantly commenting on their travelling experience via social media – every part of their visit is under constant scrutiny. That means that if they arrive in a town and there is nothing to do in the evening that message will be communicated around the world and have an immediate impact on the desirability of coming to New Zealand and the West Coast for their friends and family back in China.”

The two-day event was designed to share ideas about how education and training, in conjunction with the natural environment and tourism, can help grow the West Coast economy.