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Canterbury researchers combine social media analysis and sustainable tourism

27 September 2018

Canterbury researchers are harnessing the power of social media to understand international visitors’ perceptions of sustainable tourism in New Zealand.

Senior economist Dr Peter Fieger from economic development agency ChristchurchNZ has teamed up with University of Canterbury academics Associate Professor Girish Prayag, Professor Michael Hall, and Lecturer Chris Chen, of UC’s Management, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship department in the College of Business & Law to explore how Canterbury can develop its tourism industry sustainably.

Their project, Consumer Perceptions of Sustainable Tourism Practices in The Canterbury Region, has been made possible thanks to a grant from TINZT, (the Tourism Industry New Zealand Trust).

Dr Peter Fieger says the group hope to understand what kind of sustainability operations, products & services and practices are most valued by international visitors to our region.

"Tourism contributes $3.5 billion to the Canterbury economy; however, increasing tourism numbers are negatively impacting travel destinations and travel experiences across the globe,” Dr Fieger says.

“In Canterbury, our boutique towns, natural wonders and pristine scenery with their fragile ecosystems will be under pressure unless we identify and adopt initiatives to champion sustainable tourism practices.”

While much is known about sustainable tourism indicators for destinations and communities globally, little is known about how visitors to New Zealand feel about current sustainability practices and whether they’re hitting the mark. 

Dr Prayag says that by analysing online customer reviews and surveying international visitors, the team hope to identify some key themes and sentiments about what sustainable practices and initiatives are valued by this market.

“This is an exciting research opportunity to harness the power of social media analysis and artificial intelligence techniques to gain valuable insights into visitor perception, which can in turn inform industry practices and policy-making,” Prayag says.

ChristchurchNZ General Manager of Destination and Attraction Loren Heaphy says “It’s exciting to see Christchurch undertaking cutting edge research and analysis which could lead to significant positive outcomes for our destination and our visitor experience.”

TIA Chief Executive Chris Roberts says TIA is pleased that Dr Peter Fieger has received TINZT funding for his work with the University of Canterbury on consumer perceptions of sustainable tourism practices in the Canterbury region

“Achieving sustainable growth is the biggest challenge and opportunity for the New Zealand tourism industry,” Roberts says.

“TIA’s Tourism Sustainability Commitment was launched last November and we are very pleased with the uptake by industry, with nearly 500 businesses or organisations having signed up to date.   

“We see Dr Fieger’s research as providing important new knowledge on how our visitors perceive our sustainability practices.  This insight will help operators to operate smarter in designing their practices to meet the needs of visitors and so raise the bar of industry sustainability performance.  While this research is based in Canterbury, we expect the findings to be relevant across New Zealand.     

“International visitors to our country spend $14.5 billion a year, therefore it’s vital that we understand their views on tourism in our country to inform our work," - TIA Chief Executive Chris Roberts.

“International visitors to our country spend $14.5 billion a year, therefore it’s vital that we understand their views on tourism in our country to inform our work.”

The New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment aims to see every New Zealand tourism business committed to sustainability by 2025. Canterbury operators are among those signed up to the pledge with a vision to lead the world in sustainable tourism, which research shows is highly valued by our visitors.