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Americans and Canadians have long held winter as not a good time to travel to New Zealand. The island's tourism bureau is confident it can bust this myth.

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New Zealand is eager to get its tourism sector back to full-throttle after the country was entirely shut during the pandemic. One way to do this is to attract more tourists beyond the popular December to February months.

Tourism is typically its number-one employer, but overseas visitation is still around 20% off its pre-pandemic level. The destination was late to fully open to international travelers, having reopened its borders in July 2022. 

We spoke with Tourism New Zealand boss René de Monchy about the country’s recovery and push to draw more visitors beyond its summer.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

Americans and Canadians Flock to New Zealand

The North American market has been pretty strong for you this year. What’s driving it?

There is a nice tailwind from a positive foreign exchange rate. The U.S. dollar has been strong relative to the New Zealand dollar. We had about 120% more American arrivals over the summer just gone compared with pre-pandemic. 

We are more connected to North America from a flight perspective than we were pre-Covid. Delta Airlines, which launched late last year, is flying to New Zealand for the first time ever.

We’ve had new routes open up, such as United Airlines flying San Francisco into Christchurch in the South Island, Auckland to New York, and American Airlines returning over our summer as well. 

New Zealand Wants More Tourists During the Winter

Talk about your renewed focus on growing tourism during the off-season.

We are still quite a seasonal destination, and our focus going forward will be on how we encourage people to travel year-round, with North Americans being one of the most seasonal. 

We acknowledged that at the end of this February summer, whilst we are still not a hundred percent of what we were, we see a strong trajectory, yields are up, and satisfaction is high.

We’re really focusing our attention on the challenge that has returned to the tourism sector, which is seasonality. So those three months are about 40% of the sector’s value spent in a quarter of the time.

You’ll see new work coming for us that will really highlight all the things that New Zealand has to offer because we’ve got to do quite a lot of myth-busting. Winter in New Zealand is quite different from winter in New York, even spring and Autumn.

So, lots of our activities in New Zealand are actually evergreen. The best time to go whale watching, for example, is June or July. 

Tourism New Zealand CEO René de Monchy

Collaboration with Taika Waititi

You launched a campaign with New Zealand director and actor Taika Waititi in October last year. It made international headlines. How did it perform?

We had Taika, a well-loved New Zealander, as a director and also an actor in that series. He was making that. I think it was the second or third series. They were filming it here in New Zealand.

As part of that, there’s an incentive for production companies to do that, and part of that is promoting New Zealand. So we spoke to him and said, look, here’s a nice idea to promote New Zealand, would you be interested? And he was really engaged, and it actually ended up being about a three-day shoot that involved him, and he obviously directed it with his talent.

He just brought his own kind of quirky sense of humor to the idea where he played up, he couldn’t make it and his body double had to do all the things, but in the end highlighted whitewater rafting and scenic flights and he did golf and watching and all sorts of the variety of activities that he can do. It was really well received actually. 

New Zealand Embraces Maori Culture

A few years ago, you launched a campaign called “If You Seek”. It focused on the country’s Maori identity and putting them at the center of telling New Zealand’s story. It highlighted Maori concepts in a way that piqued the viewer’s interest. 

That’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to pique people’s curiosity and make them do a little bit of work. It’s still marketing, at the end of the day. So we did not do much work, but we wanted them to do a bit of work. So that’s exactly right. 

Maori culture is unique to New Zealand. We know from our research that visitors find it an intriguing and cherished part of a visit to New Zealand. How do we sort of bring that out and tell that story as part of your dream to New Zealand?

Increasingly, we’re also seeing a lot of new Maori-owned tourism products developed over the years. People can actually also see a variety of Maori businesses beyond the ones that they thought were the more obvious ones.

Lord of the Rings Still Draws Tourists

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed in New Zealand in the early 2000s. Is that still a draw for tourists?

it’s the gift that keeps on giving. In our research, we haven’t redone that since Covid, but before Covid we found that still one in five visitors became interested in New Zealand because of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

It was a magnificent advertisement that actually keeps on doing its work because as I always say, there are still people who haven’t seen who are watching Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit for the first time on a streaming service. And there is New Zealand on display.

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Tags: ceo interviews, destination markeing, indigenous tourism, new zealand, tourism

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