fter being caught out by an unexpected spike in Asian visitors during last year's Chinese New Year celebrations, Queenstown tourism providers and retailers are better prepared this year.
The usually week-long celebration, equivalent to Western Christmas and new year festivities, means people book holidays either side of public holidays, making January 23 to 29 the most significant travel week for the Chinese and Asian market.
Today marks the start of the celebrations, which are observed not only in China, but also in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan and by ethnic Chinese all over the world.
i-SITE visitor centre manager Matt Wong is better placed than most in Queenstown to ascertain the number of Chinese New Year visitors, which he says has steadily increased over the past few years.
"Five years ago, you wouldn't even have thought about it, but now it's a big chance for us," Mr Wong said.
"I certainly expect to see it increase on last year as it's continuing to grow."
Queenstown's accessibility has improved with China Southern Airlines' Guangzhou-Auckland flights, Air Asia X flights from Kuala Lumpur to Christchurch and Jetstar's Singapore-to-Auckland service.
Already, holiday visitors are beginning to arrive, with operators such as Skyline reporting packed dinner services and businesses around town putting up posters emblazoned with the Chinese characters for "Happy New Year".
"By all accounts the hotels are actually benefiting as well, reporting capacity and numbers which are higher than usual," Mr Wong said.
He said i-SITE staff had been upskilling to learn how best to deal with Chinese visitors, a rapidly growing market, not just over the Chinese New Year period but throughout the year.
"Language is a huge part of it ... but it's more understanding that you need to build the trust before you can build the sales."
Bonz Gallery, in the Queenstown Mall, is another business making sure it is ready to deal with the shifting market and the new year influx, Bonz Group New Zealand managing director Bonnie Rodwell says.
The gallery, which sells New Zealand arts and crafts, was taken by surprise last year.
"It was our first Chinese New Year and we weren't ready for it, but the turnover went through the roof," Ms Rodwell said.
"We only wish it was Chinese New Year every day as we don't do this well over the entire year, just in small parts, so we are very excited."
The once predominantly Japanese market had shrunk and the gallery had employed two Chinese staff, with other staff required to learn three new Chinese words a week, she said.
However, like Mr Wong, Ms Rodwell said it took staff a while to learn how to deal with the Chinese style of negotiating sales.
"Bonz doesn't discount, so we have done a lot of research and spent a lot of time and energy on learning how to sell to a group of Chinese instead of watching them walk out the door." Her biggest one-off sale came last year when $38,000 of goods were bought by a Chinese actress, and greater revenue for businesses like hers "flowed on" to other businesses in the resort, she said.
She expected next year's Chinese New Year period would be "doubly busy" and hoped to have found a big red dragon by then to put in the front window of the gallery.
Ziptrek owner Trent Yeo is another Queenstown businessman who sees the importance of the period and the Chinese market - so much so he is learning Mandarin.
Mr Yeo is one of the members of the Destination Queenstown group heading to Shen Zhen, Guangdong Province in March to further promote the Southern Lakes as a travel destination.
With China and India now "the big movers and shakers" in the travel market, it was important for businesses to learn about the Chinese market, not only because of the increase in visitors "but due to the big outbound market as well".
In keeping with this, Mr Yeo and another Queenstown operator are planning a "post-mission mission".
"We are going to go inland into the mountains, way out into the regions, and get a better feel of the different traditions, which is as exciting for us as the Chinese coming here."
While he needed "a Chinatown" to be able to find proper Chinese New Year decorations, he has come up with a different way to celebrate - half-price Ziptrek tickets for anyone born in the Year of the Dragon.
A Chinese restaurateur in Queenstown, who did not wish to be named, said there was always a peak in business during the Chinese New Year period.
"With Chinese New Year people just want Chinese food; it's just like your Christmas with Turkey."
Better prepared for New Year
By Joe Dodgshun on Mon, 23 Jan 2012