Tourism blitz: the pitch goes out, the hotels go up

New Zealanders are gearing up for what they hope will be a miniboom in tourism. A new promotional campaign in the United States, Canada, and Australia is planned, and new hotels are on the drawing boards for Auckland, the country's "gateway," and Rotorua, its top tourist attraction.

This new activity comes on the heels of a good year for the $250 million industry. The number of tourists in 1980 -- about 200,000 -- was up 8.4 percent , helped in part by a declining New Zealand dollar and some specific marketing aimed at North American, Canadian, and Japanese vacationers. Last year tourism from the US rose 27 percent, Canadian visits increased by 30 percent, and Japanese, 24 percent.

Without the increased tourism from North America in particular, it could have been a disappointing year. The influx of Australians, representing about 50 percent of all tourists, dropped last year because many Aussies decided to vacation at domestic hideaways, while others took advantage of discount air fares to the Orient.

To woo back the Australians, the Kiwis are designing a new campaign. According to Tony Shrimpton, director of tourism, marketing division, the new campaign will focus on New Zealand "as a pleasant place to be . . . with pleasant people." Also, the Australians will be reminded that their appreciating currency buys them more travel value in New Zealand, where the currency is declining. The government plans to buy time on Australian television to make its pitch.

In the US and Canada, the New Zealanders with launch a campaign in September with the theme "Discover New Zealand and the friendly South Pacific." This promotion, in 18 North American cities, will include a film and live dancing by Maoris, natives who settled the islands before the British.

The new hotes will also come at a good time. After several years of oversupply, hotel rooms in Auckland are now scarce as tourists pay premium prices. Sheraton has announced it will build a 450-room hotel in Auckland, and TraveLodge is building a 150-room hotel near the Auckland airport. In Rotorua, a resort featuring hot springs and Maori artifacts, the Machinery Group has announced it will build a 150-room hotel, and the Carabel Motor Inn organization will add 50 rooms to one of its complexes.

Smaller motels and hotels are also springing up. The Development Finance Corporation has made loans totaling $59 million (US$48 million) in the past two years to 22 hotels in the Auckland area alone.

Still more hotel space will be needed if the Japanese become interested in New Zealand. Even though visits by Japanese tourists increased sharply last year, the actual numbers were small. But several Japanese investors are considering buying hotels that would cater to large tour groups from their country.

The possibility of this investment has already sparked some controversy. At a seminar on Japanese tourism, one speaker suggested there ought to be a limit to Japanese equity in New Zealand hotels. This suggestion prompted the Evening Post, an Auckland newspaper, to editorialize that "the Japanese are a key factor in any forward planning concerning New Zealand tourism. Let's at the outset show that our tourist industry is confident enough not to fear a takeover by Japan and that instead it intends using every talent it possesses to present New Zealand as not just a place in which to invest some surplus capital, but a holiday spot where the visitor can be assured of a good time too." The newspaper went on to point out that the Japanese enjoy shopping and eating familiar food, and they need interpreters. "Provide these," it concluded, "and a country can consider itself in business."

When tourists do visit New Zealand, says John C. Clapp managing director of Atlantic and Pacific Travel, a large tour operator, they start in Auckland, then visit Rotorua and its hot springs before flying on to Christchurch. From there they go to Mt. Cook or Queenstown by bus and then fly to Milford Sound before departing for Australia.

Most tourists want to try their hand at trout fishing, and Mr. Clapp says that next year his firm will include a trip to a sheep farm as part of its package tours.

If there is any weak link in New Zealand tourism, it is that food and service could be improved. A New Zealand publication called Economic News recently charged that "major tourist hotel restaurants are exploiting a captive market."

In fact, food in New Zealand is often overpriced, considering the quality. As for service, Mr. Clapp says there has already been a tremendous change from a few years back. He adds that "although New Zealanders are basically outgoing types of people, they often have a certain shyness that can be misinterpreted as unfriendly."

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