What the Tourism Data is Telling Us
By TIA Industry Strategy Manager Bruce Bassett
New Zealand’s official tourism data has big lags so is not useful for telling the most current-state story, nor for indicating what is coming.
The most recent monthly arrival data is for January 2020 which recorded a year-end growth of 0.4% to 3.9 million international arrivals.
The world has changed profoundly since then.
COVID-19 emerged in late January and by early February the border was closed to China. Globally, more and more movement restrictions have been put in place. From 16 March, New Zealand required all international arrivals to be quarantined for 14 days on arrival and on 19 March New Zealand closed its borders to all but New Zealand citizens and residents.
International travel has dried up and domestic travel will not fill the gap. Signals from Government and the dialogue around ‘social distance’ are dampening New Zealanders’ desire to travel domestically.
Tourism businesses and the 392,000 people directly and indirectly employed in tourism are feeling enormous pain, compounded by the uncertainty on how long the impact of the virus will last. Consensus is building that it will not be over quickly, and nor can we expect markets to rapidly bounce back as with earlier events like September 11, GFC, SARs, etc. This one is different, with the tourism industry essentially needing to adjust to a period of hiatus.
The Government economic response package was released on 17 March and is designed to project jobs and businesses. This is seen as the start of a range of interventions as New Zealand negotiates its pathway through this event.
Data to guide us though this COVID-19 period
Stats NZ’s provisional weekly visitor arrival data is the best tracking data. This is released weekly, with weekly and 4-weekly arrivals for international and returning New Zealanders. The most recent release was for the week to 1 March (refer below) with arrivals down 22%. With the border closure, these series will soon be tracking at virtually zero. Get this data at Provisional international travel statistics. You can also subscribe for the weekly releases.
MBIE Tourism Data Factsheet
Since the emergence of COVID-19, MBIE has been working with industry to explore other leading indicator data sources. There are data series on daily visitor arrivals, visitor spend, visa applications, airline forward bookings, and more. Get the datasheet, which will be updated weekly here.
Unfortunately, with the reality that the New Zealand border is now closed, most of these series will not be of much use until the recovery commences.
Visitor Population in New Zealand
One highly relevant series in the MBIE material above is on the visitor population in New Zealand. This is prepared by Immigration New Zealand which measures how many temporary visa holders are in the country. This population is essentially all visitors except those from Australia who do not need visas.
Up to 22 March, around 80,500 non-Australian international visitors were in New Zealand (refer below). This substantial volume of visitors still in the country reflects that lag between people arriving and leaving, and this explains why some parts of the tourism industry have been able to operate reasonably well until quite recently.
This series will change quickly over the next couple of weeks as visitors to New Zealand repatriate themselves to their home countries and are not replaced with new arrivals.
TIA will share the most insightful data on a weekly basis over the volatile period ahead, with some interpretation around it. Understanding what is going on is key to supporting industry in managing its way through this crisis.