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Visitor numbers fall in February

Wednesday 13th April 2011

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The number of short term visitors from overseas fell on a seasonally adjusted basis in February, and economists are worried it may be the start of a run of monthly declines.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) today show the number of overseas visitors arriving for short term stays edged up around 400 in February from a year earlier to 268,300, but compared to January, numbers were down 4 percent seasonally adjusted.

ASB economist Jane Turner said much of the fall in February from January was due to fewer overseas visitors coming to this country on holiday, with numbers in that group 7900 lower than in February 2010.

That decline was partly offset by a rise in the number of people visiting friends and relatives. That number was up by 3000 from a year earlier for the whole of February, and in just the part of the month after the February 22 Christchurch earthquake was up by 2300.

It was difficult to draw too many conclusions from today's data, Turner said.

It was unclear whether the fall in the number of people on holiday was due to cancelled plans following the earthquake, or if arrivals were already declining following three months of solid growth.

"Looking at the next few months, we expect a decline in overseas visitor arrivals to persist, as some may have opted to cancel or postpone holidays in New Zealand as a result of the damage in Christchurch," she said.

"We expect that short term visitor arrivals for holiday purposes will remain weak for a number of months following the February earthquake. However, one key uncertainty going forward is how many will cancel or postpone trips to NZ altogether, versus how many visitors will still come to NZ but avoid Christchurch."

Visitor arrivals may not return to pre-earthquake levels for a couple of years, but disruption to overall visitor numbers nationwide was likely to be temporary. The Rugby World Cup was also likely to boost tourism in the second half of 2011.

ANZ said that while it was expecting large inflows of visitors for the tournament, disruptions from the earthquake may temper the boost, with some tourists reassessing the length of their visit to this country.

The earthquake may also dampen Chinese and Japanese visitor numbers, both of which were important for the tourism industry.

"Tourism inflows generate much needed income and are one of the routes promoting the desired rebalancing of the NZ economy," ANZ said.

"Whether or not the Christchurch earthquake has delivered a king hit to NZ tourism remains to be seen."



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