New Zealand may soon join the more-tourists-than-residents club

Wish you were here?
Wish you were here?
Image: AP/Mark Baker
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An English family that recently visited New Zealand made international news for behaving badly. They reportedly littered on the beach, scammed restaurants out of payment, and threatened violence against locals who asked them to change their ways. Their misbehavior struck a chord with New Zealanders, many of whom are wary of a recent influx of tourists.

Tourism to New Zealand is exploding. The number of visitors jumped from less than 2.5 million in 2012 to over 3.5 million in 2017, according to the most recently available data from the World Bank. This makes it among the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. The boom is particularly notable for a relatively remote island country. Most other rising tourist destinations are in Europe or Asia, near other densely populated places.

Australia and China are New Zealand’s largest source of visitors, but the increase is coming from all across the world. Data from the World Tourism Organization show around 30-40% growth from each continent from 2013 to 2017. The data also suggest about 90% of visitors came for leisure, with only 10% on business trips.

The visitors are coming so fast that New Zealand might soon enter an unusual club. In 2017, there were 18 countries with a population of more than 2 million that had more visitors than permanent residents. With a ratio of almost 3.8 visitors for every resident, Croatia tops this list.

In 2017, New Zealand had a ratio of 0.74 tourists per resident. New Zealand’s tourism industry projects it to pass 5 million visitors in 2024, surpassing its current population of about 4.8 million, according to the New York Times (paywall). Its population is growing slowly, so it’s likely that visitors will outnumber residents some time in the mid 2020s.

Most of the countries with more visitors than residents are in Europe. The three that aren’t are Singapore, Georgia, and Uruguay. Whether they like it or not, New Zealanders are on the way to joining this group.