It is very clear that New Zealand, and the South Island in particular, is on the verge of an exponential increase in international visitors. Tourism is now the country’s biggest industry with $14.5 billion generated in the current year. We are expecting 4.5 million visitor arrivals by 2022. This year we will host 380,000 visitors from China and that will grow to 500,000 in 2017. These are big numbers and this is a critical industry for our country.
New Zealand is sold to the world largely on the majesty and beauty of the South Island, even though a disproportionate number of tourists land in Auckland and concentrate their visitor experience in the North Island. However, the secret is out. Tourism numbers to the South Island, especially free independent travellers, who spend significant sums of money, are on the increase and we are seeing increasing pressures on our general infrastructure as numbers grow. This is a very positive problem for New Zealand and for the South Island in that tourism provides a diverse range of job opportunities, a significant amount of foreign exchange earnings and also assists to connect our country better with other countries to realise other opportunities.
However, we have some challenges. The capability of many of our tourism operators needs to be enhanced and they need to manage the growth accordingly. Growing companies face issues with regards to capital constraints, internal business processes and human capability.
We also have infrastructural challenges. Our international air carriage capacity is increasing in a carefully coordinated way, particularly into markets with high visitor potential. Our roads are in relatively good shape, but we are under increasing pressure with regard to visitor accommodation. This is not only as a result of the earthquakes but in the other areas throughout the South Island accommodation is becoming choked.
Then of course we see the issue of how small communities can provide facilities for visiting tourists, such as toilets and hospitality offerings. This is a particularly fraught issue when it comes to rate payers in small areas being expected to provide significant tourism facilities.
While we welcome all of the opportunities that increasing international tourism brings to the South Island we must be careful we do not destroy the very offerings they have come to see. Guardianship of our prime tourist offerings is vital as is the spread of visitors right across the South Island to take pressure off the hot spots. We also need to explore how we can continue to host our visitors across the year, not just in the peak season. A South Island wide coordinated visitors strategy will be critical. In Christchurch we now have a strategy in its early stages of development and it is important that that be developed alongside the overall aspiration for our city. Tourism will continue to be a leading contributor of our economy, with Christchurch operating both as a gateway to the South Island and also a tourism destination in its own right.