By Paul McBeth
April 15 (BusinessDesk) - The steep decline in Chinese visitors in February weighed on the accommodation sector, with fewer international guest nights booked for the third straight month.
The earlier Lunar New Year was cited as a reason for a 26 percent drop in Chinese tourists in February from the record 69,000 in the same month a year earlier, despite this year being touted as the official China-New Zealand Year of Tourism.
That decline in arrivals has seen a similar fall in demand for accommodation. Stats NZ data published today show international tourists spent 2.03 million nights in accommodation in February, 3.2 percent less than a year earlier. That more than offset a 2.6 percent increase in guest nights for domestic visitors at 1.99 million.
"The timing of the Chinese New Year can affect the travel patterns of people coming to New Zealand to celebrate," Stats NZ said. "The holiday fell in early February this year, compared with mid-February in 2018. Some visitors who were here for the festivities may have arrived in January."
Travel data released last week showed the median length of stay for short-term visitors in February was 10 days, in line with the past five years.
New Zealand has been experiencing strong growth in its tourism sector for several years, although those numbers have stretched existing infrastructure. Accommodation capacity expanded to 143,000 available daily stays in February from 141,000 a year earlier.
The slowdown from international visitors was more marked on North Island accommodation, which was down 4.2 percent in February from a year earlier at 920,000. South Island international guest nights fell 2.3 percent to 1.11 million.
Hotels were largely unaffected, reporting a 1.3 percent increase in international guest nights to 733,000. Motels were the hardest hit, reporting a 7.8 percent drop in international guest nights to 505,000. Backpackers reported fewer foreign visitors at 389,000, down 4.4 percent, and holiday parks posted a 3.5 percent decline to 399,000.