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The impact of border restrictions on visitor numbers

Total visitor arrivals fell steeply in February 2020, down 45,200 (11 per cent) to 372,700 when compared with February 2019 – the biggest drop in arrival numbers for any February month on record, Stats NZ has said.

“This was mostly driven by the large drop in visitor arrivals from China in February, resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak travel restrictions imposed at the start of the month,” population indicators manager Tehseen Islam says.

Visitor arrivals from China plummeted by 45,900 (90 per cent) in February. Before the travel restrictions were imposed, China had been New Zealand’s second-largest source of visitor arrivals on an annual basis, behind Australia. With this drop, China slipped behind the United States, which is now the second-largest source of visitor arrivals.

“There were still five thousand visitor arrivals from China in February. Most of these visitors arrived in New Zealand via other countries rather than directly from China,” says Tehseen.

New Zealand’s borders were closed to almost all visitor arrivals just before midnight on March 20, 2020. The number of flights in and out of New Zealand has reduced significantly in recent weeks.

“Visitor arrivals fell in February, and provisional weekly figures into March show arrivals dropping dramatically as travel restrictions increased worldwide,” Tehseen says.

While this release is for February, we have provisional data going into March that shows the most up-to-date figures available.

In the year to 19 March, provisional numbers indicate that total visitor arrivals dropped roughly 10 per cent in 2020 compared with the same 11 weeks in 2019 and 2018.

Provisional international travel statistics are an early indication of short-term travellers arriving in and departing from New Zealand. These provisional figures understate arrivals since not all arrival cards have been processed at the time of publication. Data for March 2020 will be finalised and published on 14 May 2020, in International travel: March 2020.

Number of international student arrivals down in February

The total number of arrivals on student visas fell by 6,100 (29 per cent) to 15,000 in February 2020 compared with February 2019.

The fall in the number of student arrivals was mainly driven by 8000 (84 per cent) fewer arrivals of Chinese students following the travel restrictions imposed at the start of the month. This was partly offset by 1300 (51 per cent) more arrivals of Indian students.

Just over one-quarter of all student arrivals in February were citizens of India, followed by citizens of China (10 per cent), United States (8 per cent), and Vietnam (6 per cent).

Provisional border-crossing data gives an indication of the number of people arriving on student visas after February 2020. The border-crossing data does not incorporate arrival card information, so we are unable to give a breakdown of traveller type (for example, overseas visitor, New Zealand-resident).

New Zealand-resident travellers arrived back from 190,500 overseas trips in February 2020, almost identical to the number in February 2019.

Australia was the most visited country in February, with 44 percent of the New Zealand-resident travellers arriving back from there. This was followed by short-term travellers arriving back from India (8 per cent) and China (7 per cent).

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