EARTHQUAKES
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Chinese tourists

‘Don’t cancel your trip’: quake-hit New Zealand tries to reassure anxious Chinese tourists

Chinese visitors help make New Zealand tourism its top overseas earner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 7:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 11:26pm

New Zealand tourism operators have issued an urgent appeal to prospective Chinese visitors after Monday’s deadly earthquake: don’t cancel your travel plans.

Drawn by the stunning scenery, made famous in the Lord of the Rings movies, Chinese holidaymakers helped make New Zealand tourism its top overseas earner this year, overtaking dairy for the first time.

But tourism industry and government agencies are moving to bolster confidence in China, New Zealand’s fastest growing and second biggest tourism market, in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude quake, that devastated parts of the South Island’s rugged coast.

The quake trapped 1,200 holidaymakers in the seaside town of Kaikoura, famous for whale-watching.

Huge landslides cut Kaikoura’s road and rail links, and police said water was running low, power was intermittent and hundreds of people were sheltering in evacuation centres.

New Zealand’s defence force started ferrying people out by military helicopters Tuesday and that a navy ship from Auckland was due to arrive in the area Wednesday morning.

China chartered four helicopters to evacuate around 40 nationals, mostly elderly and children, from Kaikoura late on Monday, with another 60 expected to be airlifted.

“They have been trapped in Kaikoura for a couple of days, some are maybe scared, they have some mental stress,” said Liu Lian, an official at the Chinese Consulate in Christchurch.

Many planned to continue journeys to other parts of New Zealand, Liu said, and that the consulate had not yet heard of Chinese tourists cancelling trips.

“If there were any effect it is only temporary. Natural disasters are a possibility everywhere,” he said.

Other tourists also said they planned to continue their trips, and travel agencies said they hadn’t noticed a drop off in bookings.

“To date, we’ve been checking and there’ve been very, very few reports of people cancelling planned trips to New Zealand, which is good,” said Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts.

“But we do know from China in particular that yesterday, immediately following the quake, there was some anxiety and Chinese travel companies were receiving calls from customers about their planned trips to New Zealand this summer. Hopefully they’re getting the right information to them that there is no reason to cancel a trip to New Zealand.”

Recovery of the tourism market was also essential to Chinese airlines that had recently begun direct flights into Christchurch and to Chinese carriers that were flying to New Zealand for the first time via the main gateway of Auckland.

Though the damage so far did not look as bad as the 6.3 magnitude quake that hit Christchurch in 2011, tourism’s central role in the economy meant that any fallout was a concern.

“We know from the experience of the Christchurch earthquakes that Christchurch took a big hit and other parts of the South Island also did - parts of the South Island that were actually completely unaffected by the earthquakes - so we want to try to avoid that,” Roberts said.

Australia is New Zealand’s largest tourism market, providing almost 1.4 million visitors in the year to September, with China No. 2 at more than 400,000 and growing fast.

Tourism New Zealand said it was too early to tell what impact the quake would have but expected visitors would be reviewing their plans in the short term.

Christina Leung, senior economist at the New Zealand Institute for Economic Research think tank, said tourism tended to be hit harder by events such as earthquakes than other sectors.

Most of the impact from the Christchurch quake was due to damage to tourism infrastructure such as accommodation and other facilities, Leung said.

“So to that extent, it really just depends how much damage has been sustained in these earthquakes. It’s quite early days and from what I understand the impact will be more modest,” Leung said.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Xinhua