New Zealand: “the new Switzerland”

The Middle East travel trade is yet to realise New Zealand’s unique selling points, but its natural beauty, rich culture, boutique accommodation and diverse land- and water-based activities make the country a must-sell

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By  Gemma Greenwood Published  November 1, 2006

|~|Lake-Wakatipu.gif|~|Lake Wakatipu (South Island): New Zealand’s breathtaking scenery, boasting mountains and lakes, is a draw card for GCC nationals and expatriates alike.|~|New Zealand has been somewhat overshadowed by its mighty neighbour, Australia, in terms of popularity with the Middle East’s outbound travel market. Travellers from this region heading Down Under typically head straight to the Gold Coast, pop down to Sydney and Melbourne, and occasionally, nip across the Tasman to spend a few days in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. “New Zealand is an emerging destination for this market,” explains Nicola Cunich, UAE manager for Tourism New Zealand. “The Middle East is mad about Australia, and New Zealand is the perfect add on, but it is also a great destination in its own right.” The key issue, says Cunich, is that product knowledge of New Zealand is limited and therefore, “travel agents are not sure how to sell the destination”. New Zealand comprises two very different islands – the North Island and the South Island – but both offer endless leisure opportunities, many of which focus on adventurous land- and water-based activities. The North Island, particularly north of Auckland, where the Bay of Islands is located, boasts some of the Southern Hemisphere’s best beaches, and water sports, including surfing, kayaking, sailing, jet-skiing, snorkelling and windsurfing, to name but a few, are popular activities. Heading south to Rotorua, the spiritual home to the native Maori of Te Arawa, travellers will find crystal clear crater lakes, bubbling mudpools, spouting geysers, hot water beaches and spas that take advantage of these natural phenomena. The nation’s capital, Wellington, located on the Southern tip of the North Island, is a windy city year-round, but is known for its café society and burgeoning boutique retail scene. From here, tourists can travel by air or by boat across the Cook Straight to the South Island where more fresh air and breathtaking scenery awaits. Some of the key highlights include Marlborough Sounds, home to deserted beaches and crystal clear lakes; Nelson, the gateway the Abel Tasman National Park where walking enthusiasts can embark on a 51km coastal trek; Queenstown, home to extreme sports such as Bungee jumping, shotover jet river rides, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking and 4WD tours; and Milford Sound, where travellers can take a fjord cruise and take in views of mountains and waterfalls – Mitre Peak and Bowen Falls respectively. Other key attractions on the South Island include the Franz Josef Glacier, only for hardcore hiking enthusiasts and the tamer option of Christchurch, known as ‘The Garden City’, where garden tours, festivals, theatres, a good variety of cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, are just some of the main activities and facilities on offer. Here, direct clients with kids to the Canterbury Museum and the International Antarctic Centre. The latter enables visitors to take a virtual Antarctic tour.||**||THE NEW SWITZERLAND|~|Tim-Whittaker-maori-big.gif|~|Emirates Holidays claims its cultural Maori Heritage Trail has proved a hit with the UAE market.|~|Despite the general lack of awareness of New Zealand’s endless attributes in this region, some agents are starting to realise its potential, according to Cunich. “People have been saying it’s the new Switzerland because of the mountains, lakes and the outdoor activities [it offers],” she says. It’s also worth noting that New Zealand offers greater value for money and than Switzerland, but is equally as beautiful, she adds. Arrivals from the Middle East to New Zealand hit the 17,075 mark for the seven months to July 2006, marking a promising 5.8% increase on the same period in 2005, (16,132 visitors). The biggest growth is coming from the Saudi Arabian market,” says Cunich. “The UAE market is quite static.” She believes that Kanoo Holidays, which is based in Al Khobar and boasts “around 158 agents” across Saudi Arabia, has stimulated interest from the KSA market. In May, the tour operator, which is owned by Kanoo Travel, introduced a dedicated Australia and New Zealand brochure, hence raising market awareness of what New Zealand has to offer. However, in defense of the UAE market, Davinder Kaur, destination development manager, Asia & Australasia, Emirates Holidays, says the company witnessed 18% increase in New Zealand bookings from April until the end of December. “It’s a destination that is definitely going to go from strength to strength in the next few years,” she says. “Demand for New Zealand is pretty much all-year-round, which is different to other markets, including Australia, which is only really popular in the (Northern Hemisphere) summer.” Kaur says New Zealand mountain resorts such as Queenstown, which “resembles an Alpine village”, is proving increasingly popular as a ski destination, thanks to Ski Dubai generating an appetite for winter sports. The country’s geo-thermal properties and activities related to those are also a unique selling point,” she adds.||**||SELF-DRIVE|~|NZ-extra.gif|~||~|Cunich advises agents to sell New Zealand as part of a twin-stay Australia-New Zealand package to Arab nationals. This gives them a “taster of the market” and will encourage them to explore New Zealand at a later date, she believes. “But we encourage agents to sell New Zealand as a standalone destination to the Western ex-pat market. For them it’s visit Australia one year, then New Zealand the next,” she says. Both markets, however, tend to opt for self-drive tours in either hire cars or campervans, according to Cunich, Kaur and Grant Holmes, general manager, Kanoo Holidays. “The campervan tours have been very popular with the ex-pats and what we are finding with the GCC nationals is that they like to tour both islands too,” he says. “Both want to see Auckland and Rotorua on the North Island, and Christchurch and Queenstown on the South Island, and we have had many requests for tours this year.” Taking this into account, Holmes will add more touring itineraries to Kanoo Holidays’ 2008 brochure. “We run about 12 pages on New Zealand at the moment, but this will increase slightly next year,” he says. New itineraries will offer eight-day coach tours of the North Island and eight-day coach tours of the South Island, with the option of linking the two to create a 16-day package. Emirates Holidays currently offers self-drive tours of eight-days/seven-night of the North Island and seven days/six nights of the South Island. The operator’s Maori Heritage Trail – taking in Rotorua, Mokoia Island, Kaikoura (home to the sperm whale) and Christchurch, introduced this year, has also proved a hit. Holmes concurs with Kaur that New Zealand attracts business year-round, but says December to February (the Southern Hemisphere summer) is popular with ex-pats and May to July, with GCC nationals. “They don’t go in August because it’s too cold,” he adds. Holmes says just 20% of Kanoo’s Australian-bound clients travel on to New Zealand and that “very few” choose the destination as a standalone option. “Last year we had 250 passengers [to New Zealand] and this year it doubled. The numbers are small, but it’s growing.” Nathan Adams, product development manager at Dnata Holidays also concedes that New Zealand “isn’t selling particularly well at the moment” because “it hasn’t had a lot of focus given to it in the past”. “The market isn’t necessarily up to speed with what New Zealand has to offer,” he says. “It’s now up to us to get the message across to agents about its selling points.” New Zealand is one of the 25 destinations set to feature in Dnata Holidays’ new brochure, due out in January. The operator, which recently revealed it would focus on the four-, five- and five-star deluxe markets only, has partnered with Qantas Holidays and for top-end properties, Southern Crossings, to secure packages and accommodation to suit its target client; “the discerning traveller”. “We will focus on tailor made packages for New Zealand and will be contracting some of the lodges and smaller, more private accommodation,” says Adams. The brochure, he adds, will offer tasters of what New Zealand has to offer, but direct customers to Dnata Holidays’ web site, which is currently being revamped for the consumer and the trade, where more product details and itinerary options will be available. “Consumer awareness [of New Zealand] needs to be raised. We have to start buying into the product, because customers aren’t going to ring up magically and ask for New Zealand,” says Adams.||**||AIR TIME|~|NZ-extra-2.gif|~||~|Emirates Airlines has played a huge role in generating traffic to New Zealand. The carrier operates 49 flights weekly to Australia and 28 of these fly on to New Zealand. “The flights from Dubai are literally on the ground for one hour (in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane) to refuel, and then take off again, bound for New Zealand,” explains Cunich. Of the four daily flights, three fly to Auckland and the fourth, from Sydney to Christchurch.” “We hope that when Emirates takes delivery of its A380, that this type of aircraft will operate on the Dubai-Australia-New Zealand route,” says Cunich. Emirates claims there are no plans to increase frequencies to New Zealand, but the airline has made no secret of its intentions to secure more flights to Australia, pending Australian Government approval. But any additional flights that are secured bode well for New Zealand, particularly bearing in mind the opportunities for twin-stay Australia-New Zealand trips. New Zealand’s national carrier, Air New Zealand (ANZ), does not fly to the Middle East, but connects with Qatar Airways and Gulf Air flights in Hong Kong into Auckland. The airline will introduce a three times weekly Shanghai-Auckland on November 6, and will therefore connect with additional flights from the Middle East. Jonathan Newman, sales manager developing markets, Air New Zealand, also highlights the carrier’s new Hong Kong-London Heathrow service. “ANZ is now the only airline in the industry to offer a round-the-world service on one airline (LHR-LAX-AKL-HKG-LHR),” he says. This is worth noting for clients wishing to embark on a world tour embracing Asia, New Zealand, the US and Europe. “Selling New Zealand should be easy,” claims Newman. “Its dramatic landscapes, breathtaking scenery and wealth of history make for a holiday that both relaxes and enlivens.” He also emphasises that visas are available on arrival for GCC nationals – a key selling point when considering the often lengthy processes involved in securing tourism visas for Australia. ANZ recently changed its GCC GSA from MMI Travel to Apollo Flight Centre and aims to build a “long term and progressive relationship with the local travel trade,” says Newman. “We want to offer the trade more opportunities to learn about our airline and to experience some of our Kiwi hospitality,” he adds. According to Holmes at Kanoo, most clients heading to New Zealand opt to travel in the business and first class cabins, providing plenty of revenue-earning opportunities for travel agents. ANZ recently revamped its long-haul aircraft to feature a new three-class layout; the first and business class cabins have been replaced with the new Business Premier cabin, featuring flatbeds that are 202cm (6ft 7½ inches) in length and 84cm (33 inches) wide, the Pacific Premium Economy now boasts seats with a 38- to 40-inch seat pitch, and Pacific Economy offers a 34-inch seat pitch and new generation seats.||**||LUXURY LODGINGS|~|Delamore-Lodge-big.gif|~|Luxury private accommodation such as Delamore Lodge on Waiheke Island is proving popular with the Middle East market.|~|Luxury air travel is not the only revenue-earning option for agents. GCC travellers are also seeking top-end boutique accommodation, particularly luxury lodges, according to Holmes and Cunich. Taupo, Queenstown, and Waiheke Island, which is located just off the coast of Auckland, are where some of the best-known lodges can be found. They primarily attract travellers seeking privacy and tranquility, but are also ideal venues for private functions and incentives. “We host in excess of 50 weddings each year and also welcome many honeymooners from around the globe,” say Julian and Helen Nalepa, owners of The Estate, Church Bay, on Waiheke Island. “We have hosted visitors from Bahrain, Dubai, Oman, Qatar and other countries in the Middle East. We are discreet and totally focused on the client, having been Northern Hemisphere expatriates ourselves for in excess of 20 years, inclusive of a short period in Bahrain.” The Estate, which is nestled among vineyards and olive groves, offers four guest suites with private patios, panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf, gourmet food and massages are available on site. Activities available include horse riding, bush and beach walks, fishing, sailing, diving, kayaking, scenic flights and paragliding. Similar activities are available at Delamore Lodge, a Mediterranean-style property that has been moulded into the hillside at Owhanake Bay, also on Waiheke. The property offers four luxury guest suites, each of which features an open shower with views of the Gulf. “We are getting more enquiries from Dubai,” says owner, Roselyn Barnett-Storey. “It’s a very exclusive property offering gourmet food, and a restaurant hosted by an executive chef.” She says Delamore Lodge was designed to be a haven for relaxation and therefore features treatment rooms, a jacuzzi and a sauna. Treatments range from Lithos massage, using heated and chilled rocks, to traditional beauty therapies such as facials. “The average stay is three to five days. But increasingly people are staying for seven nights – just to chill out,” says Barnett-Storey. “Once guests stay here, they never go back to hotels.” Guests at both Delamore and The Estate can fly from Auckland International Airport by helipcopter, as both properties have a helipad. The journey takes just 12 minutes. Alternatively, transfers are available by private car and ferry. There are 17 sailings per day from Auckland to Waiheke and the journey takes 35 minutes. Most international hotel chain names such as Millennium, Hyatt and Hilton can also be found in New Zealand. ||**||THE SALES PITCH|~|NZ-extra-3.gif|~||~|GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand: connects from Hong Kong to Auckland from Doha and Bahrain with Qatar Airways and Gulf Air respectively. Cathay Pacific: Dubai-Hong Kong, double daily; Riyadh-Hong Kong, three times weekly; Hong Kong-Auckland, daily. Emirates: Dubai-Sydney, double daily; Sydney-Auckland, daily and Sydney-Christchurch, daily; Dubai-Melbourne, double daily; Melbourne-Auckland, daily; Dubai-Brisbane, daily; Brisbane-Auckland, daily. Malaysian Airlines: Dubai-Kuala Lumpur- five times weekly; Kuala Lumpur-Auckland, five times weekly. Singapore Airlines: Abu-Dhabi-Jeddah-Singapore, three times weekly; Cairo-Singapore, three times weekly; Dubai-Singapore, 10 times weekly; Istanbul-Singapore, four times weekly; Singapore-Auckland, daily; Singapore-Christhchurch, six times weekly (operates every day except for Tuesday). Thai Airways: Dubai-Bangkok non-stop, daily; Bangkok-Auckland, daily. VISAS: visa-free countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. British, Irish, South African and many European citizens are also exempt. For more information visit www.immigration.govt.nz. CURRENCY: 1 NZD (New Zealand dollar) = US $0.66. FACTS: Population: 4 million. English widely spoken. A similar land size to Britain or Japan. Main international airports: AKL – Auckland; CHC – Christchurch; WLG – Wellington. Time difference: GMT + 12 and October to mid-March, GMT + 13. PACKAGES: Emirates Holidays: prices start from AED 4900 (US $1334) per person for three nights at the Sky City Hotel, Auckland, including return economy class airfare, American breakfast, airport transfers by private car and all room tax and service charges. Kanoo Holidays: prices for an eight-day North Island coach tour start from US $639 per person. Prices for an eight-day South Island tour start from US $689. Children under 15 receive a 50% discount. LUXURY ACCOMMODATION: Delamore Lodge, Waiheke Island: NZ$985 (US $647) per night (suite accommodation). Delmore’s meet and greet service to the lodge, including private car transfers from Auckland airport to the ferry terminal, ferry passes for two people and a private car to the lodge, are priced NZ$150 (US $99). A half-day tour in Auckland, including transfers, is priced NZ$300 (US $198) and a full-day tour, including transfers is NZ$500 (US $329). The Estate Church Bay, Waiheke Island: NZ$400 (US $263) for The Coromandel Suite and The Hauraki Suite and NZ$600 (US $394) for The Rose Wing (two suites). The price includes breakfast served in the privacy of the guests’ room or on their patio, on-island transfers, selected wine tasting and drinks on arrival, and the use of all grounds and facilities. Wedding packages are also available. SELLING TIPS: A diverse country with four distinct seasons and scenery ranging from mountains and lakes, to beaches and un-spoilt islands. Value for money. Sightseeing opportunities encompass deep forests, quiet beaches, Maori culture, volcanic thermal springs, glaciers, rivers and lakes. Family activities range from theme parks, zoos, wildlife reserves and Antarctic Centres, to endless outdoor activities, from water sports to skiing. Accommodation: from well-known chain names to luxury boutique lodges. Camping and campervan facilities are also extensive. Shopping: traditional Maori arts and crafts, merino wool products and sophisticated but quirky New Zealand designer fashion labels (Karen Walker, World, Zambesi, Nom D and Sabatini White Label). Extensive road network; highly suitable for self-drive. USEFUL LINKS: www.newzeland.com www.aucklandnz.com www.queenstown-nz.co.nz www.rotoruanz.com www.airnewzealand.co.nz www.innovativetravel.co.nz||**||

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