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Opening of the Ridge Country Retreat - Speech

Hon Mark Burton
16 April 2003

Opening of the Ridge Country Retreat

I am delighted to be here with you in Tauranga today to open this beautiful new retreat.

Tauranga offers our visitors a range of attractions, including boating, recreation and game fishing, marine encounters with dolphins and whales, a selection of adventure and family activities, restaurants and wineries and hot mineral pools.

Tauranga’s natural beauty, warm climate, high sunshine hours, and proximity to Auckland and Rotorua make it a very desirable destination. Indeed, it is an ideal location for a top-end accommodation facility such as Ridge Country Retreat.

As part of its ongoing international marketing campaign, Tourism New Zealand has invested considerable effort in identifying New Zealand’s “Ideal Visitor.”

In order to make the most of New Zealand’s tourism potential, we want to attract visitors that we can better satisfy.

In return, we will gain guests who will sustain our culture and environment while still producing strong economic benefits.

Our research indicates that while New Zealand’s ideal visitor is drawn to our landscape and natural beauty, they also want to participate in an “authentic” experience. These visitors place a high value on interaction with our people and our environment, and many of them are now looking for a more personal type of accommodation—a place where they can really “get to know” the hosts and the surrounding environment.

Visitors have also indicated that they want to experience a combination of tourism products simultaneously. Ridge Country Retreat is offering just that. With its combination of quality facilities, set in a natural environment, and close to numerous activities and attractions, an experience is being created that closely mirrors our ideal visitor’s wishes.

This same research has shown that guest activities are the main drivers of customer satisfaction. Visitor dissatisfaction is more likely to be associated with products such as transport and accommodation.

This is why it is so crucial for all New Zealand accommodation providers to offer a service and facilities that exceed the expectations of their visitors.

By providing the highest possible level of quality, we can ensure that our guests will leave with positive memories of New Zealand—memories that they will be sure to share with their friends and families.

If we fail to meet our visitors’ expectations, it may well affect their perception of New Zealand as a whole. This will almost certainly impact on their decision to return, as well as on the message that they communicate about New Zealand.

But I believe that the entire tourism sector is committed to building an ever more professional, high-quality tourism industry. A strong commitment to quality and sustainability is becoming the norm throughout the tourism industry.

Attention to quality, management, strategic thinking, and strong public/private partnerships are positioning the industry to confront the very real challenges it is facing, both in the short and long-term.

Two such challenges are currently dominating headlines the world over— the war in Iraq and the SARS virus. Both are of concern to tourism worldwide.
Currently, anecdotal evidence suggests that some travellers are delaying their trips, changing destinations, or even cancelling travel altogether.

While such events certainly have the capability to influence the market, it is simply too early to judge what, if any, long-term impacts they will have on tourism in New Zealand.

Overall, however, the impacts appear to be relatively small at this stage. Indeed, statistics released today indicate that following record arrivals in March 2002—a period which coincided with the Easter holidays—visitor arrivals for March 2003 have only decreased by four percent. In comparison with March 2001, arrivals have increased by 9.1 percent.

And with forward bookings softening only two percent overall for the next three months, I remain confident about the long-term growth path for New Zealand tourism.

It is important for the government and the sector to keep working together to ensure that a consistent, calm assessment of the situation is communicated—just as we did in the period after both the events of September 11 and the 2002 terrorist attacks in Bali.

By employing this approach, New Zealand’s tourism sector not only recovered relatively quickly, it gained a larger market share.

This in no way suggests that there is room for complacency or arrogance as we face the current situation. As always, the sector must continue to focus on prudent business practice and attention to quality coupled with swift, well-coordinated management response to rapidly changing events.

The government will continue to work through the Ministry of Tourism and Tourism New Zealand, and in partnership with TIANZ and other industry representatives to monitor the situation and ensure that the industry is up to date as the situation develops.

The Ministry is also working with other key agencies to ensure that tourism interests are considered in the government’s ongoing reactions to SARS. The Ministry of Health website is an excellent resource for anyone in the industry, as is the Tourism Research Council New Zealand website.

To manage these short-term challenges, it is important that we have a fundamentally strong industry. An industry with a focus on quality. An industry with a vision of where it is going and who its customers are. Businesses that adhere to best practice in all aspects of their own operations. And an industry staffed by appropriately skilled, qualified and motivated people.

But the industry is also facing the long-term challenge of managing the impacts of our growing tourism sector while still maximising its obvious economic benefits.

In order to achieve this goal, it is vital to focus on attracting and satisfying our ideal customer. Industry research has identified that there is currently a shortage of luxury accommodation with which to tempt this niche guest. Developments such as Ridge Country Retreat will help to fill this gap in the market and enable us to promote high-end accommodation to our high-yield, long-staying ideal visitors.

If we get the balance right—and get it right we must—we can enhance both our visitors’ experience and New Zealanders’ quality of life.

The Government is committed to achieving this goal. In 2000, we did something that no New Zealand government had ever done before. In partnership with key industry representatives, we formulated the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010—a ten-year plan for developing a truly sustainable tourism sector.

Quality, balance, and diversification—all were identified as being essential to sustainability. For while growth in visitor numbers is still one measure of success, there are other critically important factors to consider in relation to the sector’s long-term future.

There are certainly signs that we are on the right path. Visitor yield is growing significantly faster than visitor numbers.

Recent projections by the Tourism Research Council indicate that while international visitor arrivals will increase by an impressive 36% between now and 2008, visitor yield is projected to grow by close to double that rate, or 72% in the same period.

By 2008, this will translate to $9.7 billion added to the New Zealand economy.

Our challenge is to balance this kind of growth with care, protection and, wherever possible, enhancement of our natural and made environments.

Our challenge is to encourage all those who choose to travel throughout New Zealand—whether they are domestic visitors or international guests—to go beyond the boundaries of a traditional tourist experience and explore the extraordinary range of opportunities New Zealand has to offer.

We must effectively encourage them to visit at different times of the year, to try a greater number of products, to stay longer, to explore a wider range of locations, and, of course, to spend more.

The entire sector must demonstrate the flare, innovation, originality, determination and unwavering commitment to quality that we have seen demonstrated time and again by such people as Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Richard Taylor, and the entire Weta Workshop team.

Tourism already offers great economic benefits to New Zealand. In 2001, our international visitors spent an average of nearly $3500 per person—adding up to an injection of nearly $6 billion into the New Zealand economy.

When combined with domestic tourism returns of nearly $7 billion, tourism generates 10% of our GDP, is directly and indirectly responsible for one in ten jobs, supports over 15,000 businesses, and is one of our largest earners of foreign exchange.

But for New Zealand to realise the full potential of this market, we must continue to look to the long term.

We must work together to find the right balance between industry growth and protecting our unique environments, as well as the communities and cultures of New Zealand who host and supply the services to our guests.

We must continue to communicate our pride in New Zealand through hospitality to our guests, sharing an industry-wide vision for the future that keeps excellence at the forefront.

Let me conclude by saying that New Zealand has staked out its place in the highly competitive international travel market. The goal now is to exceed the expectations of every single visitor to New Zealand.

In a world of unlimited choice, we must make sure that our guests have a world-class experience—one that leaves them longing to return.

As Minister of Tourism, I am committed to continuing my working partnership with the sector to making appropriate choices for both the industry and New Zealand—to keep this industry vital and to realise the potential of, and the inherent responsibilities in, building a truly sustainable, high-quality tourism industry for New Zealand.

I congratulate Penny and Joanne on creating such a beautiful place, and wish you all success for the future of Ridge Country Retreat.


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