Pure Thinking: The Strategies for Selling New Zealand

Article excerpt

New Zealand's tourism industry dates back to 1870 when Victorian ladies and gentlemen marvelled at the wonders of Tarawera's Pink and White Terraces. The industry has come a long way but there is still some distance to go. The future success of New Zealand's tourism industry will depend on the management and marketing strategies behind this rapid growth industry. Just how good are they?

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 a 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, a 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 a 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 a 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, a 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 a strong position that would appeal in every country. …