China's continued economic strength and the accelerating number of Chinese tourists visiting New Zealand is prompting an NZ Transport Agency safety campaign directed at tourism companies specialising in holidaymakers from the Asian nation.
The figures are impressive: 210,000 Chinese tourists last year – 85 percent higher than five years ago. Measured in dollars and cents, the value to New Zealand is already around $650m annually, and Chinese visitor numbers are expected to top one million in the next five years.
“Numbers like that mean we have to do all we can to make sure we welcome holidaymakers from China with a New Zealand experience that is not only enjoyable, but a safe one as well,” says the Auckland Regional Manager for Access and Use – the NZTA’s group responsible for vehicle safety and regulations - Rick Barber.
The NZTA is a key partner in the New Zealand Government’s “Safer Journeys” initiative designed to reduce crashes and fatalities and serious injury on the country’s roads, and Mr Barber says that is the catalyst behind the safety campaign with the Chinese tourism sector,
“Safer Journeys is an initiative that applies to all of us including people involved with tourism,” he says.
Chinese tourism operators were recently invited to an education workshop organised by the NZTA – and supported by the Police and ACC – aimed at improving safety and the responsibilities of operators and their drivers.
Mr Barber says with one his staff fluent in Mandarin, the workshop was successful with 80% percent of those attending describing it as worthwhile and constructive.
“It was significant because operators discovered that we were all there to give advice and information to help ensure they would provide a safe service. Using one of my own team as an interpreter was a real bonus to reach out and connect with the operators and obtain greater understanding of their compliance obligations.
“In the past there was a lack of understanding about what was required from operators. There had been a number of complaints, particularly about the buses used by operators: poor maintenance of vehicles, poor baggage security, poorly marked emergency exits and a lack of fire extinguishers.
“Happily, coach fleets have improved and standards have been upgraded in recent years and our workshop built on those improvements to reinforce the safety message.”
Mr Barber says the NZTA is now planning to see if it can extend the successful workshop to include other tour bus operators.
“We would be aiming to educate drivers about the number of hours that they are legally allowed to work in a day, which includes time driving a bus, when they are legally required to have a break from driving and the duration of those breaks, and their obligations to keep up to date their driving logbooks.
“There is nothing to fear if people are doing the right thing and the bus licence and the logbook are up to date and accurate. The whole idea is to make it safe for everyone: the person driving a bus, their passengers, and all the other people using the road. Improved safety can only enhance New Zealand’s reputation as a safe destination for the growing number of visitors who want to come here from China for a holiday,” Mr Barber says.