Dubai/Queenstown: Travel from the GCC to New Zealand was up 57 per cent in the last eight months, largely driven by UAE tourists, according to the latest figures from Emirates Holidays.
Still, the number of visitors from the GCC and the wider Middle East is low compared to those from Asia and Australia, say hotel managers and tourism representatives in New Zealand.
"The market has a lot of potential, but it is not fully mature yet," said Davinder Kaur, regional destination development manager at Emirates Holidays. "This is very good growth, but it could be better."
New Zealand is still "not very well known" as a holiday destination among GCC nationals and expatriates who have yet to understand the destination and what it has to offer, Kaur added. New Zealand is a "late-comer" to the Middle East tourism market compared to Australia's Gold Coast, which has had a presence here for 20 years, she said.
"The way the GCC culture is, they wait for someone to go there and then it is word of mouth," she said.
Most visitors are GCC nationals on honeymoon and western expatriates, Kaur noted. The South Island is especially popular with young Emiratis travelling in groups for extreme sports like bungee-jumping, zorbing (rolling downhill in a big transparent balloon), and sky-diving, she said. "It is an excellent adventure destination."
Queenstown is the home of modern bungee-jumping. AJ Hacket, a bungee operator company, gets 300,000 visitors every year, but only about 30,000 to 40,000 people take the plunge, said Ben Chapman, trade manager of Destination Queenstown.
Holiday lodges, with their large rooms and privacy, are also popular with GCC families, Kaur said.
Spas and treatments
Most Middle Eastern visitors to the Treetops Lodge and Estate in Rotorua, on the North Island, go from Dubai to hunt and fish on the 2,500 acres of forest and lakes, said Kris Shepherd, assistant manager at Treetops. The spas and treatments in the volcanic town of Rotorua attract Middle Eastern visitors as it's a combination of health therapy and pampering. New Zealand is marketed to the region as a "heaven on earth" luxury destination, said Kaur. Tourism New Zealand sells the destination as "uniquely Kiwi".
The busiest seasons are June to August when tourists can ski there during our summers and November to January for mild summers, she said.
GCC nationals do not require a visa to New Zealand.
Visitors can also opt for a twin destination by travelling to Australia and New Zealand or Asia (Thailand, Singapore) and New Zealand on the same flight at no extra cost, she said.
"New Zealand is very much family-oriented; people are down to earth and helpful," Kaur added. "It is very similar to GCC culture. They don't have this Muslims and the rest of the world divide. "To them everybody is the same. They're very easy-going."
Check-in at the domestic airports is easy and luggage is not scanned. "It's a big Wow," Kaur said.
New Zealand is hosting the Rugby World Cup 2011 and GCC visitors are expected to increase by 20 to 30 per cent among people who travel for sports. The All Blacks, New Zealand's rugby team, has a massive following.
"It's not just a rugby team, it's a performance," said Kaur. "They are so in touch with their nationality just like the GCC people are proud of their nationality.
"Look at how many people attend the Sevens here. They become passionate and dress up in costumes. Over there it will be even bigger." Trade will get a boost as an estimated 85,000 rugby fans pour into New Zealand, said Wayne Mikkelsen, consul-general and trade commissioner.
"The Rugby World Cup is certainly going to be a huge event for New Zealand," he said. "Given our passion for the sport and welcoming nature, we'll certainly grasp with open arms the opportunity to welcome the world."
Emirates operates a daily flight to Christchurch via Bangkok/Sydney, and there are three a day to Auckland via Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The flight via Sydney is on an A380 superjumbo.
Meanwhile, Etihad Airways has a service from Abu Dhabi to Sydney and offers connecting flights to Auckland through its partner Virgin Blue.
- New Zealand is the most recently inhabited country in the world.
- New Zealand is the first country in the world to welcome the New Year.
- Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is know as the City of Sails and has more boats than people. One in every three Aucklanders own a boat giving the city its reputation.
- Milford Sound was voted number one destination in the world by the 2008 TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards.
Source: Emirates Holidays