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Lending some expertise . . . Tourism Export Council New Zealand chief executive Judy Chen was in Oamaru last week to deliver a workshop to tourism operators. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Waitaki tourism operators should celebrate and promote what makes them special.

That was the message from Tourism Export Council New Zealand chief executive Judy Chen who was in Oamaru last Friday to help regional tourism operators work with the international travel trade.

It was the second workshop of its type run by Ms Chen and Tourism Waitaki, as part of its engagement strategy with operators.

About 70% of international visitors to New Zealand, excluding Australians, booked through trade intermediaries, or non-direct bookings.

“When you look at our long-haul markets, the majority are going through some other intermediary to come to New Zealand to book the product they want to experience, and not directly with the operators themselves,” Ms Chen said.

It was important for regional tourism operators to build connections with those intermediaries, she said.

Visitors to New Zealand were often enticed by the natural landscape, but it was the personal interactions they remembered more, she said.

“People love to meet Kiwis, they want to understand what is it like to them and the culture behind everything.”

Waitaki still had an authentic feel, and it was important to manage growth, she said.

“We have seen pockets of New Zealand where there has been pressure on the capacity and therefore the community push back.

“We want to make sure the destination is managing things sustainably and future-proofing.”

Ms Chen’s Oamaru visit was also a chance for her to get a closer look at the Waitaki Whitestone Geopark proposal, which she thought would add value to the region.

“China has a lot of geoparks and they have a really good understanding of what they are all about.

“Those markets that are familiar with Unesco and geopark status will naturally go ‘oh, there is one in New Zealand’ and want to go and see it.

“Visitors are now looking for that more enriched experience when they go to a destination.”

Ms Chen said the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony was a good example of combining tourism with a conservation element.

“Most international visitors spend about two weeks in New Zealand and want to experience things they can’t do or see anywhere else,” she said.

“Differentiating yourself from others either with the product you have, or the service you provide, can make a lasting impression.

“Unique attractions and activities will help build stronger and more diverse visitor markets and there are so many unique natural features here.”