New Zealand isn’t the only nation to court rich foreign visitors in the era of Covid-19, with others also choosing to market themselves as exclusive destinations better suited to big spenders than backpackers.
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash has said Aotearoa will unashamedly target “high quality” tourists who spend more and stay longer as opposed to those who “travel around our country on $10 a day eating two-minute noodles”.
Aiming to boost tourism spending after the sector was devastated during the earlier part of the pandemic, countries looking to lure wealthy visitors often argue that welcoming fewer, but higher-spending visitors will also benefit local people and the environment.
Below are five destinations which have made no secret of their attempt to woo the rich as international travel rebounds. Fortunately for those of us of more modest means, most cater pretty well to budget travellers too.
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Often referred to as “the last Shangri-La” for its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has never been a cheap place to visit, taxing tourists to help protect its environment.
Before the country reopened to international visitors in September, its “high-value, low-volume” tourism policy saw it charge them at least US$250 (NZ$440) a day, which covered accommodation, meals, a tour guide and a US$65 “sustainable development fee”.
Now, tourists are required to cough up US$200 a day to visit, and pay separately for their accommodation, meals, tours and other travel expenses, significantly increasing the cost of a stay.
Officials said the new policy would rebrand Bhutan, which is wedged between China and India, as “an exclusive destination” attracting “discerning tourists” (Nash, by the way, said New Zealand was after “discerning travellers”.
Bhutan’s foreign minister and chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, Tandi Dorji, said the aim was to create high-value experiences for visitors and well-paying jobs for citizens while keeping the country’s carbon footprint low.
Those who can afford a trip can look forward to hiking through a network of pristine national parks, soaking up the Buddhist culture in well-preserved traditional villages, visiting intricate temples clinging to bare cliffs, and generally experiencing daily life in a country that measures its wealth and prosperity through a national happiness index rather than its gross domestic product (GDP).
Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, caused quite a kerfuffle in 2021 when he said the country would ban backpackers from Bali when it reopened to overseas visitors.
“We’ll aim for quality tourism in Bali, so we won’t allow backpackers to enter once the reopening plan for international travellers is officially put in place in the near future,” local media quoted him as saying.
Pandjaitan later clarified that he had meant Bali wouldn’t welcome those who might violate Indonesia’s health or immigration rules, but there are signs the country is looking to change its image as a budget traveller haven.
The Indonesian government has announced that remote workers from overseas (aka ‘digital nomads’) will be able to conduct online work in the country for up to six months without paying tax on a B211A visa. A five-year ‘digital nomad visa’ is under discussion in the hopes it will lure more high-spending foreigners to Bali’s shores.
The island’s mountainous hinterland, wild surf beaches, plethora of elaborately decorated temples, and famously hospitable people have attracted travellers of all budgets since it opened to tourism in 1914.
In recent years, Bali has become a hotbed for digital nomads, while a proliferation of luxury hotels (2022 arrivals include Banyan Tree and Jumeirah) draw travellers with plenty of Deutsches (or rather rupiah) to spend.
During the pandemic, Fiji famously advertised itself as a haven for the mega-rich, with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama inviting billionaires to make the Pacific Island nation their temporary home.
“So, say you’re a billionaire looking to fly your own jet, rent your own island, and invest millions of dollars in Fiji in the process – if you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and borne all associated costs, you may have a new home to escape the pandemic in paradise,” he tweeted.
With tourism accounting for 38% of GDP, Fiji has made luxury travel a focus since reopening to foreign visitors.
The country aims to “attract and expand high value customer segments” and encourage a “growth in visitor spend” to promote sustainable tourism, Tourism Fiji says in its corporate plan for 2022 to 2024.
Private island resort Vomo is among the many accommodation providers in Fiji aimed at high-end visitors, but there are options for all budgets.
A once-in-a-lifetime destination for many visitors, the Maldives is famed for luxury resorts set on private islands boasting some of the best beaches in the world.
But in September 2020, the tourism-reliant Indian Ocean nation launched a loyalty programme it hopes will encourage people worldwide to make a Maldives getaway a regular treat.
Developed by Maldives Immigration and the Ministry of Tourism, the “Maldives Border Miles” programme rewards tourists for multiple visits.
Each of the programmes three tiers – abaarana (gold), antara (silver) and aida (bronze) – offers its own set of perks, with visitors rising up the ranks by paying repeat visits, staying longer and celebrating special events there.
While widely regarded as a playground for the rich and famous, it’s possible to hit up its powder white beaches for less than $100 a night.
A dream tropical destination for many, Hawaii has become a victim of its own tourism success, with a record number of visitors in 2019 prompting locals to lament its effects on the environment and cost of living.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) aims to better protect the state’s citizens and natural resources by attracting “mindful, respectful and high-value travellers”.
HTA chief executive John DeFries said the organisation wanted to change the popular perception of the state as the “playground of the Pacific” to a diverse destination with a rich culture and fragile ecosystem.
New initiatives include requiring visitors to make a reservation to visit popular parks, such as Wai’anapanapa State Park and Kauai’s Kalalau Trail (non-residents must also pay parking and entry fees).
Some attractions have also put up their prices – Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Oahu, for one, has capped visitors at 720 a day and hiked fees for non-residents from US$5 to US$20. Visitors also have to watch a nine-minute video before entering the water which aims to educate them on topics such as coral regeneration and marine life.
Oahu is lobbying for a regenerative tourism fee that would support conservation and environmental management programmes, while Hawaiian Airlines and various hotels have taken steps to raise cultural and environmental awareness among visitors.
The state has also launched a campaign similar to New Zealand’s Tiaki Promise, based on the concept of malama, or caring for the land. Participating hotels reward guests with a free night’s stay if they spend a day helping to clean beaches or reforest land.