New year starts well for tourism Down Under

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LOS ANGELES -- After a dismal fourth quarter in 2001, during which U.S. arrivals to Australia dropped 25% and those to New Zealand dropped 11.6%, tourism officials in both countries reported better news so far in 2002.

For Australia, U.S. arrivals were up 7% in January and 2% in February, according to Michael Londregan, vice president for the Americas at the Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) here.

Preliminary figures count some 83,200 U.S. arrivals during the two months. "That's an incredible result for us," Londregan said, considering that arrivals the year before were "just months after the [Sydney] Olympics," and "global terrorism issues were not on our doorstep."

"Everybody had the doom and gloom after Sept. 11," said Gregg Anderson, regional director of Tourism New Zealand here, but U.S. arrivals to New Zealand were up 38.5% year-over-year in January, "so despite all the difficulties, people obviously are traveling."

February arrivals were up 1.5%, resulting in about 25,000 U.S. visitors each month, which traditionally are the two largest for New Zealnd tourism.

"The January figures were a big deal," Anderson said. "A very significant part of that, however -- at least half of it, if not a bit more -- was due to changes in cruise scheduling."

Last year, an estimated 900 berths were available across January, he noted. This year, that figure was closer to 5,500.

About 194,000 U.S. travelers visited New Zealand in 2001, Anderson said, about the same as the year before. This year, due in part to the America's Cup yacht race, which runs from October to February, he said arrivals are expected to exceed 200,000, at least a 3% hike over last year.

Australia tourism officials are forecasting a 5% to 10% gain in U.S. arrivals from 1999 levels. Above, visitors take in a sunset by campfire at Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Though falling short of the record 482,000 U.S. arrivals to Australia in 2000, Londregan said this year's forecast is being revised to a rosier one, from a 5% to 10% gain over 1999 levels rather than even with that year.

Travel agent education and specialist programs are central to both tourist boards' marketing efforts.

The Aussie Specialist program, which was introduced by the ATC in 1992 and had about 1,200 U.S. members last year, provides consumers with contact information for the two closest agents via the Australia.com Web site. Referrals are provided to the agents at the consumer's request.

"We're in the [annual] renewal process of the program," Londregan said. "Around 80% of the members already have rejoined for this year, and we're predicting we'll carry the same number of Aussie Specialists as we did last year. "When you consider what has happened to the agent community, that's a very good result."

Aussie Specialists accounted for 7% of U.S. retail sales, or $230 million, to Australia last year, an ATC spokeswoman said.

On average, each specialist sends 30 people to Australia per year, she added, at a vacation dollar value of $3,600, air and land.

Future development of the program includes a complete transition of training and continuing education to the Web.

Tourism New Zealand's Kiwi Specialist program, introduced in 2000, is focused on agent education rather than providing leads, in contrast to the former Preferred Agent Link program it replaced.

Agencies that participate in the specialist program are listed by state on the tourist board's Web site, at www.purenz.com.

"We provide phone numbers, addresses and a bit about them," Anderson said. "We found that's a more valuable way for people to go to them."

That concept carries over to Tourism New Zealand's agent road show, "Discover New Zealand," which is embarking on its second annual tour.

"New Zealand is [growing as] an independent travel destination," Anderson said, "and it's a complex destination to sell. It's difficult unless you have a good base of knowledge to string together a good itinerary.

"So we have been working hard, along with wholesalers in the market, to make it easier to do that."

Hollywood has done a considerable promotional service for the country, as well, with the "Lord of the Rings" movie, which Anderson said has spiked interest in terms of call volume and Web site hits.

But it's really New Zealand's people, who U.S. travelers get to know on farm holidays or bed-and-breakfast stays, that he said visitors tend to remember.

About 25% to 30% of U.S. visitors return to New Zealand every two to three years, usually after a brief visit combined with Australia -- and often with friends, Anderson said.

Meanwhile, the ATC is finding its "2-Week Vacations From Under $2,000" campaign to be a successful one, in light of strong arrivals so far this year.

With 60 packages under the campaign, Londregan said, "We're not saying there's one great deal to Australia -- there are heaps of great deals to Australia."

Londregan said the gay and youth markets are particularly strong niches for the country. The Gay Games will be held in Sydney in November.

As for lift, Qantas reinstated its three weekly flights from New York to Sydney in February, but Londregan estimated that service by Qantas, Air New Zealand and United "is probably sitting about 15% behind where it was at this time last year."

He anticipated a return to last year's levels by October. The fact that 60% of U.S. arrivals enter or leave New Zealand via Australia "has caused some problems," Anderson said, "but direct capacity to and from New Zealand is slightly better this summer.

Air New Zealand, United and Qantas all fly direct, daily service to Auckland from Los Angeles.

Kiwis kick off second 'Discover' road show

By Paul Felt

LOS ANGELES -- Putting a friendly face to agents' notion of "kiwis," Tourism New Zealand is embarking on its second "discover new zealand" road show, which will begin april 8 in Mobile, Ala., and head up the east coast to Portland, Maine, by late May.

The eight-week show will conclude June 1 after hitting Montreal and six cities in Ontario.

About 1,100 agents attended 38 seminars during the first road show, conducted along the West Coast last June to July.

Seminars will be conducted by representatives from Tourism New Zealand, Qantas Vacations and Horizon Holidays, who plan to reach 2,000 agents through more than 50 seminars during this year's program.

The representatives will tour on a 33-foot motor home painted with images of New Zealand and the logo, "100% Pure NZ."

The road show, said Gregg Anderson, regional director of Tourism New Zealand here, is the best way to convey to agents what New Zealanders are like as a people and for tourist board and supplier workers to learn about the North American travel trade and market.

"We often get letters here saying what a wonderful time people had," he said, "and it's usually at [farm stay or bed-and-breakfast] properties, where people really get to know their hosts.

"They talk about the warmth and the friendliness of New Zealanders' personalities, which is difficult to get across because every place will say they have friendly people," Anderson added. "What we found on the West Coast last year is that it puts a face to the destination."

Travel agents interested in attending the road show should contact Qantas Vacations at (800) 476-3062, or by e-mailing [email protected].

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