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Year of Tourism to boost links with New Zealand

Time:2019-04-01   Source:China Daily

Luo Shugang (center), minister of culture and tourism, Kelvin Davis (right), New Zealand's minister of tourism, and Jamie Tuuta, interim chair of Tourism New Zealand, attend the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism opening ceremony on Saturday in Wellington, New Zealand. HAGEN HOPKINS/GETTY IMAGES

The 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism officially kicked off with encouraging messages from government leaders of both sides.

The yearlong celebration's launch, held at Museum of New Zealand, the national museum in Wellington, was witnessed on Saturday by a Chinese government delegation led by Minister of Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang, who delivered a welcoming message by Premier Li Keqiang.

"The China-New Zealand Year of Tourism presents an opportunity for our two countries to enhance tourism cooperation through people-to-people contact," Li said in the message. The initiative was first announced during Li's official visit to New Zealand in March 2017.

"More people-to-people contact between China and New Zealand will increase our mutual knowledge and awareness, which are central to more popular support for our bilateral relations and cooperation," Li's message said.

Last year, there were around 600,000 visits between the two countries, and China remains New Zealand's second-largest overseas tourist market.

In a message, read out by Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the recent Christchurch terrorist attacks brought into sharp relief the importance of building interactions and understanding across peoples, cultures and borders.

"Initiatives during the Year of Tourism reflect China and New Zealand's shared commitment to doing just that," she said.

The year of tourism is sponsored by the Chinese and New Zealand governments and involves a range of events and initiatives in the two countries.

Lisa Li, general manager of China Travel Service in New Zealand, said: "More and more Chinese are visiting New Zealand each year. They come here for its beauty, fresh air and easygoing lifestyle."

She said one of the big attractions, however, was Hobbiton, the film set used in The Lord of the Rings, in Waikato.

"I expect 2019 will be a great year, not only for New Zealand but for China," she said.

Although Australia is still the No 1 source of tourists to New Zealand, current estimates indicate that China could overtake Australia by 2024.

For New Zealanders, China is now the fifth most popular foreign destination. Already, six Chinese airlines operate direct flights between China and New Zealand.

Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand China Council, said the vast majority of New Zealanders want to see tourism links with China increase.

"China is currently our second-biggest source of inbound tourists, and this is projected to grow to around 800,000 visitors by 2024 ... outnumbering our (Australian) cousins across the Tasman," he said.

"In addition, according to our Perceptions of China Survey conducted last year, almost half of all New Zealanders say they would like to visit China in the future. So the China-NZ Year of Tourism is a fantastic opportunity to encourage visitors from both countries to explore each other's cultures," he said.

Earlier in the year, there was speculation that the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism would not go ahead due to perceived problems in the relationship.

"The problems proved to be unfounded. New Zealand and China may not agree on everything all of the time, but both are agreed that enhanced tourist flows help both countries," Jacobi said.

He highlighted that tourism is a driver of economic growth and cultural understanding. "The Year of Tourism offers opportunities to foster new relationships and strengthen current ones."

Kate Deng, who runs KateTravel, said at a conference on Chinese tourism in Wellington in December that many Chinese visitors to New Zealand were "free, independent travelers".

"They like to hire cars and tour, they like adventure holidays, … in other words, experiences they can share with friends and family back home via social media."

Song Rui, director of the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said at the conference that the main travelers are "millennials, born between the 1980s and 1990s, who perceive travel as a way to enjoy life, not purchase products".

"They love to share with friends and are a female-dominated group-62 percent," she said.