Is Auckland ready for Chinese travellers?
The Chinese tourists market has become the 4th largest inbound market for New Zealand in 2007; it also ranks 6th in terms of expenditure. Chinese visitors spent a total of NZ $352 million to the year December 2006, an average of NZ $3,340 per person (Ministry of Tourism, 2006). The latest statistics released from New Zealand Tourism Research Council show that 122,045 Chinese visited New Zealand by the year ended January 2008. These crucial statistics – market size, length of stay and average spend – indicate the necessity for the New Zealand tourism industry to understand and provide for Chinese expectations and requirements. Auckland is New Zealand's key gateway, and it is vital that Auckland provides a first good impression for the rest of country. Chinese travellers visit New Zealand with great desire and expectations of experiencing an exotic land. They expect Auckland, as the biggest city in New Zealand, to provide them with a memorable city experience in a developed country. The purpose of this research is to study Chinese tourists' expectations and travel experiences, with a particular focus on investigating whether Auckland can provide suitable services and experiences which match their requirements and expectations. The research will build on the study by Bull (1991) and Ryan (1995), which looked at supply demand relationships and at the tourism industry attempts to balance the supply with the actual demands. It will also build on work by Zhao (2006) and Qu (2006) which explored the dimensions of Chinese demand and distribution channel factors at both origin and destination. The goal is to establish which factors are adequate or inadequate. A synthesis of the demand supply situation will enable the development of recommendations. It is envisage that these recommendations could be adopted by local government and the tourism industry, either as actions or as improvements to policy. With regards to the purpose of this research, a qualitative method was decided as the most relevant approach. Qualitative methods are useful for revealing and understanding what lies are behind any phenomenon about which little is known. Grounded theory is a qualitative research method that was developed for the purpose of studying a social phenomenon, and to generate a theory relating to a particular situation (Strauss & Corbin, 1994). The historical bases of the grounded theory approach matches the aim of this research, namely to reveal the relationships between tourists and the tourism industry and to gain a better understanding of Chinese tourists' expectation and satisfaction, and the level of the service which the Auckland tourism industry provides to Chinese travellers needs to match the Chinese market and requirements of travellers. The interviews were conducted with both Chinese travellers and the Auckland tourism industry, including hotel managers, restaurant managers, gift/souvenirs shop assistants, tour guides, and so on. The research shows Auckland is not ready for Chinese market yet. This result comes from three aspects: firstly, most Chinese tourists do not have clear requirements or expectations of Auckland before they come to New Zealand. This is mainly because of the limited promotional materials available in China about Auckland. Secondly, Chinese tourists do not have many opportunities to get to know Auckland's attractions and activities after they arrive in Auckland. Auckland city is New Zealand's most popular urban tourism destination in terms of population and gateway function provides tourism facilities and services to Chinese tourists. However, the findings highlighted most Chinese tourists found Auckland's tourism attractions to be unattractive to them due to the language barrier and itinerary issues. Thirdly, the research also found Chinese tourists have been driven away due to lack of hotel accommodations in Auckland, especially in the shoulder or high seasons. Auckland's accommodation facilities are facing a challenge. The increasing domestic and international visitors' numbers and insufficient hotel accommodations will be the major problem for Auckland for the next decade. Most of the Chinese tourists who were interviewed expressed their hope of knowing more about Auckland, however, these hopes will go unrealised until the city provides better attractions and more services for them.