New Zealand's tourism officials continually emphasized the importance of improving visitor arrival figures from the U.S. at this year's Tourism Rendezvous New Zealand.

Held for the second straight year in Auckland, the four-day event hosted more than 1,200 buyers and sellers while giving members of the international media a chance to catch up on the country's extensive tourism marketing efforts.

During a 30-minute press conference at Trenz, as the event is known, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, also the country's minister of tourism, explained why his government had increased the 2010 Tourism New Zealand marketing budget by about $20 million year over year.

"There's a wealth of tourists that want to come, but we haven't marketed successfully to [them] in the past because we simply haven't had the resources to do that," Key said. "The West Coast of the U.S. has typically been quite lucrative for New Zealand, but we think we are capable of more out of that market."

Tourism New Zealand's chief executive, Kevin Bowler, said his organization's largest investment in 2010 would be in the U.S., and in partnership with Air New Zealand they expect to spend three times more than the total marketing investment of 2009.

"We currently welcome just under 200,000 Americans to New Zealand each year, but we need to encourage many more to visit," Bowler said. "It is our goal to attract an additional 100,000 U.S. visitors a year by 2014."

No doubt expecting to capitalize on the amplified U.S. marketing, Air New Zealand announced plans to increase capacity to San Francisco by 17.9% and to Los Angeles by 4% between November and March.

Continental also made headlines at Trenz, announcing its plans to begin daily, nonstop Houston-Auckland service onboard its new 787 Boeing Dreamliner aircraft in November 2011.

"The Continental announcement is great news and simply means more capacity to New Zealand," said Annie Dundas, Tourism New Zealand's regional manager for North America. "It also helps to open up the Texas market, which regularly vies with New York for our second- and third-biggest state in arrivals."

Kirk Demeter, president of Seattle-based wholesaler Down Under Answers, says business to the destination has increased dramatically over the last six months.

"With the prime minister also being the tourism minister, you've got to believe there is a real focus on tourism in general," Demeter said.

This report appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of Travel Weekly.

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