The coming Chinese tourist flood

Today I read a report on comments New Zealand Prime Minister John Key made whilst on a trip in China, where he said that tourist numbers from China alone could top 1 million. And that New Zealand’s infrastructure will probably not be able to cope.

And he would be right. Without doubt the numbers are going to grow

At the risk of sounding xenophobic, I find the forecast flood of tourists from China to be frankly alarming. Not because I am scared of Chinese people, but because I have major concerns for how the infrastructure is supposed to cope with that many tourists all coming from one nation.

This year, when the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations were on, 50,000 tourists were expected to come over. All of them needed somewhere to stay whilst here. All of them needed a mode of transport – not all would be hiring rental cars, but the pressure that so many extra people put on the roads, on the authorities, on the accommodation and local businesses would without doubt have been immense.

Let us take Mr Key’s guess about the probable numbers as being somewhat accurate and try to understand the effect it is going to have. Now, I am quite sure 99% of these tourists are going to be just fine, have a great holiday and go home with all the memories we want them to leave New Zealand with. But 1% of 1 million is 10,000 tourists – even if Mr Key has overshot by half a million tourists, we would still be looking at 5,000 tourists in that 1%. That is a colossal number of tourists to have problems with. I can see a bit of a prolonged blip in the accident statistics, especially for vehicle related incidents.

Another problem that will likely pop up is a need to have better staffing and resourcing of border control points to make sure incoming tourists are not bringing goods or substances in that could harm the environment, or smuggling out sensitive items. I watched a cruise ship in Akaroa at Christmas disgorging passengers and noticed Customs officers doing checks, which I concluded was fine since they would only be on shore for a few hours before embarking on the next stage of their cruise and their belongings were still on board the ship. However most Chinese will not be arriving on a ship.

Some smaller towns are going to find their way of life changing in ways that they did not think of. Others, which are used to the large numbers of tourists passing through such as Queenstown will find their existing infrastructure pushed and some uncomfortable compromises being reached in terms of complying with issues such as camper vans in car parks and litter increasing.

We are going to have to figure out how to cope with this growing surge of tourists, but I would not be surprised if there are a few unfortunate flash points when they come. Most of the problems are going to be caused by the language barrier and tourists having no idea what are acceptable customs in New Zealand. Too few New Zealanders speak Chinese for the country to be able appreciate a Chinese perspective on coming here.

New Zealand needs tourists and they bring in huge revenue. They also give us a perspective on how well we treat other nationalities that only a tourist could do. But still I am not the first to be slightly bothered, and I will not be the last to wonder if the needs of tourists are being put over and above the locals.

Fingers crossed for the best.

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