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Are New Zealand Tourism SMEs Ready for the Chinese Market? A Focus on Quality Management

The purpose of this study was to investigate quality management strategies applied in small tour attraction organisations (with 0 to 49 employees) in Auckland and identify operators’ understanding of Chinese visitor’s expectations of New Zealand as a tourist destination. Semistructured interviews were conducted with ten attraction operation managers in September 2008. The results of interviews have provided insights to the questions for the online questionnaire survey which was carried out in November 2008. The survey targeted 252 small tour attraction operators in Auckland. 39 respondents completed the questionnaires. The interview results show the major themes of findings in terms of quality management strategies and tour attraction operators’ understanding of the Chinese market. It was found that there was a general lack of awareness of quality management systems and their benefits; some tour operators realize the benefits of quality certification for marketing purposes. Quality management is not treated as a priority. Depending on product features, industry standards were generally considered as most appropriate for quality control. Small tour operators collect and analyse client information on a casual basis. Staff training is considered to be an important quality management initiative. The respondents showed a limited understanding of the Chinese market and lack of specific operational plans in place. However, the results also revealed that some operators who have had past experience with the Chinese market maintain an interest and are prepared to take actions in developing the Chinese market. The results of online surveys are similar to the findings identified in the interviews. It can be concluded that small tourism operators in Auckland are not ready for the emerging Chinese market. Operators are lacking techniques to apply quality management systems. While interested in the Chinese market, several operators do not have operational plans to meet the Chinese tourist expectations. Education and training are required to promote China as an emerging market. The findings from this research indicate the importance of ensuring that small tour operator owners understand and see the relevancy of quality standard to their organisation. This research has provided some important insights and themes that are worthy of further examination. Similar research needs to be conducted in other regions in New Zealand. Comparative studies across sectors should be undertaken to identify understanding of quality management.