TOURISM STRATEGY Pure Thinking – The strategies for selling New Zealand

Roll the calendar back to December 14, 1956. On this day the Cabinet Committee on Economic and Financial Policy noted in its summary of New Zealand’s Treasury Economic Survey that the tourism industry’s earnings were negligible and unlikely to improve.
On top of this, says social historian Margaret McClure in her new history of the industry The Wonder Country: Making New Zealand Tourism, the sudden increase in tourists in 1955/56 to grand total of 17,000 was considered an anomaly, though not by its Minister of the day.
Roll forward to December 2004. Even the most far-sighted of that cabinet committee 48 years ago could not have envisaged what awaited the industry in the 21st century.
Tourism is now New Zealand’s biggest export earner. We attracted 2,104,000 free spending visitors in 2003 who invested $6.3 billion in the economy. In 1990 just one million visitors arrived. We expect 3,120,000 visitors in 2010 to spend $11.271 billion here.
The industry employed 104,000 people last year. Direct tourism employment increased 18.1 percent between 1999 and 2003, according to the Tourism Satellite Account figures. Tourism Industry Association (TIANZ) new chief executive Fiona Luhrs says preliminary industry research forecasts the growth will need another 4500 people (2.8 percent) each year to service the sector.
We are, it seems, successfully marketing New Zealand. International accolades have poured in over the past few years – the most recent was Britain’s The Telegraph Awards in October where New Zealand was voted best destination by 26,000 Telegraph readers.
In September Conde Nast Traveller UK readers voted New Zealand the third top destination (Australia was first, followed by Thailand); back in May we were voted the best long haul destination in the UK’s Guardian/Observer awards and the Tourism New Zealand 100% Pure garden won gold at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. Andrew Harper’s exclusive list of the Top 20 International Resort Hideaways included four New Zealand destinations.
In all, New Zealand and its clever 100% Pure campaign has won 39 separate awards since December 1999.
And while there is an element of serendipity in the recent growth, number of strategic marketing and management decisions have helped fuel the industry’s development.
So, can it last and what strategies are in place to manage the New Zealand brand and industry’s growth?
Tourism New Zealand CEO George Hickton thinks New Zealand still faces some of the issues it did in the 1950s when cabinet committee rubbished the industry’s potential. Tourism leaders and operators are still confronted with sustainability and the need to protect the landscape. We are still miles from feeder markets and creating the infrastructure to meet the demand is difficult. And Kiwis are somewhat ambivalent about tourists.
The industry, like many others, is also grappling with labour skills shortage, its seasonal nature, and the fact that most of its estimated 16,000 operators are small businesses.
But, says Hickton, the architect of the 100% Pure campaign, the industry will continue to grow. “The key is to keep focused and recognise what New Zealand’s unique strengths are in the international arena.” According to Hickton, critical decision to drive one global campaign led to the launch of the 100% Pure brand in July 1999. “We took the decision then because our budget, while big by New Zealand standards, was minuscule by international standards. We felt we needed to take strong position that would appeal in every country.
“We needed global positioning as tourism destination. People did know about New Zealand. The Lord of the Rings had made more people aware… but they didn’t know anything about the experience of New Zealand. At the time the research said we were seen as beautiful country but visitors who had actually been here said they were energised by the experience and invigorated by the country. They saw us as more than just green and pleasant land. New Zealand was seen as something that had special energy about it and was authentic,” says Hickton.
Global ad agency M&C Saatchi was given the account. Not everyone was happy with the result and when the campaign was launched the “clean and green” image took some stick from those who preferred to foster the idea of New Zealand’s creativity and innovation.
Logic prevailed. As Hickton points out, you can’t tell international markets that New Zealand is the creative centre of the world. “A person in France will not accept that. Visitors want more than landscapes and scenery, but ultimately that is why they come here – it is beautiful country.”
Five years down the track the reaction in general is “don’t dare change it”. But we are still small beer. Around 650 million people travel internationally each year.
There is, reasons Luhrs, plenty of room for growth. Visitor numbers are forecast to increase by an average 5.8 percent year.
The challenge, she adds, is to manage the growth “and ensure we have the necessary skilled people, the committed involvement of key stakeholders such as the Department of Conservation (DOC) and local government, as well as [the commitment] of local communities and interest groups such as Forest & Bird and Fish & Game New Zealand”.
The brand campaign may be critical but successful growth hinges, in large measure, on the Tourism 2010 strategy commissioned in mid 2000 by Tourism Minister Mark Burton to position New Zealand as world-class visitor destination. The strategy included the appointment of quality assurance group Qualmark, of which Luhrs is the former CEO, to establish mechanism by which industry quality standards are measured and improved on.
Other strategies include Tourism New Zealand focus on the interactive traveller (see box story) and the establishment of the Tourism Research Council and the Ministry of Tourism.
Former TIANZ CEO John Moriarty is now consulting to the industry and identifies number of factors critical to future success. “When things are going right there are number of beams of light which fall on things. The 100% Pure campaign has made it easy to focus on the beams of light.” To his mind these include New Zealand’s emergence as an affordable, relatively untroubled tourist destination.
Strengthening world economies for the past two years, particularly in the UK which is New Zealand’s second biggest market, have helped. And since September 11 and SARS, New Zealand is perceived as safe destination, says Hickton.
New Zealand now has “reasonably good product” with great brand, says Moriarty. But the industry needs to understand more about the customer “more about what motivates them to convert their choices in action. I don’t think we have sat back enough and looked at the real reasons why people like us or not,” he adds.
There is, he says, plenty of research available but the industry must look more closely at unearthing the messages contained in it. The industry must also recognise the community tolerance needed to cope with increasing numbers of tourists. Moriarty likens tourism to the dairy industry where today’s farms have become sophisticated production units, extracting all the value they can from their product and applying detailed scientific analysis to every part of their operation.
“Tourism needs to learn and pay attention to what these sectors have done – we must become more scientific about what we are doing,” he suggests. This includes, for instance, operators analysing and targeting customers; understanding the overall preferences and structure of the target market; working in cluster arrangements with other operators and operators analysing their own share of the market and how it differs from general visitation trends.
Tourism New Zealand should expose its own research and promptly provide it to the industry in useable way. More maturity and professional management in the industry would, suggests Moriarty, have operators focusing intensely on staff, on t

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