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Chinese visitors crucial to recovery of quake-hit district economy: New Zealand tourism leader

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-11-15 15:40

WELLINGTON - Chinese visitors would be crucial to the recovery of the north Canterbury economy after the quake, particularly in the hard-hit township of Kaikoura in New Zealand, famed for its coastal scenery and whale-watching, a tourism industry group leader told Xinhua Tuesday.

Tourism industry and government agencies are moving to bolster confidence in China, New Zealand's fastest growing and second biggest tourism market, in the wake of the 7.5-magnitude quake, which killed two people in the north Canterbury region, said Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts.

Tourism and government agencies were closely monitoring reactions in China, Roberts said.

New Zealand tourism chiefs had issued an urgent appeal to prospective Chinese visitors after early Monday's deadly earthquake: Don't cancel your travel plans.

The industry had learned from the Christchurch earthquakes, which killed 185 people in 2011, that the international media coverage risked portraying New Zealand as a whole devastated, said Roberts.

"To date, we've been checking and there've been very, very few reports of people canceling planned trips to New Zealand, which is good," Roberts said in a phone interview.

"But we do know from China in particular that yesterday, immediately following the quake, there was some anxiety and Chinese travel companies were receiving calls from customers about their planned trips to New Zealand this summer. Hopefully they're getting the right information to them that there is no reason to cancel a trip to New Zealand."

The TIA was part of the government-organized Civil Defense visitor response group, which was arranging "official messaging" through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), embassies and other channels.

"The key from a tourism perspective is that New Zealand is still open for business. Yes, there's some disruption in north Canterbury, but the rest of the country is unaffected and we certainly want to welcome our tourists to keep coming to New Zealand over summer," said Roberts.

"We know from the experience of the Christchurch earthquakes that Christchurch took a big hit and other parts of the South Island also did -- parts of the South Island that were actually completely unaffected by the earthquakes -- so we want to try to avoid that."

Monitoring the public response and getting out "good information" would be a key focus of MFAT and the government's Tourism New Zealand agency, which has an office in Shanghai, over coming weeks.

Massive landslides cut off road and rail links to Kaikoura, making it accessible only by sea and by helicopter and sparking an airlift evacuation of about 1,000 stranded travelers on Tuesday.

"We'd want to support Kaikoura and get it back on its feet once the immediate cleanup is carried out and the road is reopened. Hopefully the tourist flows will begin again for whale-watching and all the other activities because it's very important to that town that it's able to get back in operation as soon as possible," he said.

Recovery of the tourism market was also essential to Chinese airlines that had recently begun direct flights into Christchurch and to Chinese carriers that were flying to New Zealand for the first time via the main gateway of Auckland.

"They're flights from new regions of China for the first time coming into New Zealand, so those airlines will be keen to have those planes filled up," Roberts said.

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