QUEENSTOWN, New Zealand, May 10 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told international tourism operators Thursday that his government was working to overcome the challenges in developing the country as a premiere travel destination.
"There's been plenty of challenges in the industry, I think, over the last few years I think that's been true internationally as we've all gone through the global financial crisis," Key said at TRENZ, New Zealand's biggest annual tourism trade event.
However, international visitor numbers rose by 4.4 percent last year, with "tremendous growth out of certain markets," said Key, who is also New Zealand's tourism minister.
"China, for instance, is a rapidly growing market for us. Chinese arrivals were up some 24 percent last year and Southeast Asian arrivals were up around 20 percent, so that's good news," Key said at a press conference.
The Rugby World Cup, played last September and October, had drawn 130,000 visitors from overseas, helping the tourism industry recover from the devastating earthquakes in Christchurch, where 185 people died in February last year.
"One of the opportunities of that was to really demonstrate to people what's happening in Christchurch," he said.
"One of the challenges that we had in New Zealand is getting the message through to people that what's happening in Christchurch, in terms of the earthquakes, has been very isolated to that city and isn't something that should deter them," he said.
"The next big challenge for the government is to really put that industry back on its feet, with the rebuild of hotels and the like in Christchurch."
Another challenge in attracting tourists to New Zealand was its distance from major markets such as Asia and Europe, so the government had been working to increase air connections, such as direct China flights by Air New Zealand and China Southern Airlines, plans by Garuda for direct links with Indonesia, and talks with Latin American countries on new connections.
But he hit out at countries that were hindering travel by raising departure taxes.
"We've obviously and rightfully so been fairly critical of some of the departure taxes that we've seen applied around the world," said Key, citing increases by the Australian and British governments.
"It's really a barrier and quite an unfair tax, so we continue to sort of make that case."
The government was also focusing on major events and the development of international convention centers to broaden New Zealand's appeal.
The premiere of director Peter Jackson's New Zealand-made film "The Hobbit" later this year would be the next major event, bringing wide exposure in North America and Europe.
Other unique offerings included "world-class scenery," the indigenous Maori culture, the "friendliness of the New Zealand people," and the ease of traveling around the country, said Key.
He also said the government had tightened regulation of the country's booming adventure travel industry so as to raise safety standards a process that began after nine people died when a skydiving aircraft crashed on the South Island's Fox Glacier in 2010.
"I think adventure tourism is very safe in New Zealand. There is always some risk when you undertake that sort of activity," said Key.
"We'll be continuing as a government to make sure that when someone hops on one of those rides or experiences, that they can feel confident and it will be safe that's critically important from our point of view."
According to New Zealand's Tourism Industry Association, which organizes TRENZ, the event is attended by more than 1,000 delegates, including 308 invited travel buyers from around the world. The four-day event, which closes Thursday is being held in the South Island ski resort of Queenstown.