Following a boom in tourists from China skydiving over the spectacular landscape of New Zealand, operators are doing all they can to measure up to the demand in 2017. Of particular focus is tandem skydiving, indicating a shortage of jump masters with the required amount of solo jumps needed to meet the qualification for leading tandem jumps. This marks a new era in New Zealand skydiving, where once absolutely local companies are expanding their reach outwards to employ overseas skydiving instructors to keep up with the expanding business opportunities.
The Chinese Are Coming
It came as a surprise to many in 2016 to see skydiving tourism from China growing so rapidly that staff shortage problems have begun emerging. According to Derek Melnick, the business development manager of NZONE, a southern based skydiving operator, their numbers of Chinese skydivers grew by more than 50 per cent over the last year, with total numbers double that of the runner-up Australians.
Apparently, Chinese visitors have come to appreciate the natural landscapes of New Zealand to be enjoyed from the vantage point of freefall, marking an unprecedented boom in skydiving tourism in New Zealand. All indications lead to believe that market growth will continue expanding rapidly in 2017 as well, and skydiving operators are already gearing up to meet the challenge.
The biggest focus is on tandem skydiving, a favorite among Chinese tourists. Families often travel together and it’s not uncommon for all of them to do jumps together. According to Melnick, there have been cases of three generations of a family jumping together. This means that there may have to be anywhere between 5 and 15 skydiving instructors on board for every jump, a number that’s hard to keep up with for the smaller local companies.
Unsurprisingly, the surge in skydiving tourism over the past few years has also attracted the attention of investors. Skydive the Beach Group, a listed Australian travel company bought up three of New Zealand’s skydiving operators – Skydive Wanaka, NZONE and Skydive Paradise at Glenorchy. Now servicing more than 50 per cent of New Zealand’s skydive adventures, the company reports a whooping capacity of 500 to 600 skydives per day. This is partially thanks to the Chinese tourism boom experienced in the past few years.
Skydiving Providers Are Struggling to Keep Up
The increased tourism from China may sound like good news, but it doesn’t come without challenges. Many skydiving operators struggle to meet the demand, and lack qualified staff to do so. The boom in the previously rather small and dispersed niche of skydiving has put a number of problems in the spotlight, and industry experts are looking for all types of solutions.
For some, it’s the window of opportunity. Skydiving Kiwis, a company based in Ashburton is looking to gear up and getting ready to buy a bigger aircraft. According to Greg Barraclough, the co-owner, this will increase the capacity for jumps from 1800 to 5000 annually. Other small companies are excited by the skydiving boom as well, and after seeing a steady increase in numbers for the past few years, have the best expectations for the 2017 season.
However, a large problem still remains. As most Chinese tourists sign up for tandem jumps, a certified instructor must be tethered to them, and this has led to a serious shortage of qualified staff. Plenty new job opportunities for skydiving instructors have appeared over the past few years, but adventure companies admit it’s hard to find the right jump masters. One way to tackle the problem is major consolidations, such as those initiated by Skydive the Beach Group. By pooling efforts and establishing a more evenly distributed schedule for skydives, they’re able to better spread the increasing numbers of Chinese skydiving tourists across the country, diverting them to drop zones that are available.
Other companies turn their look outward. With a shortage of Kiwi instructors, many companies have started hiring talent from abroad. While the New Zealand Skydiving School can train only up to 40 students a year, such countries as Australia and the USA have hundreds of skydiving instructors looking for work and eager to move to New Zealand. A big part of the problem is the lack of funding from the government, where most students have to both pay their tuition fees and buy gear on their own buck. And after the training is still finished, another roadblock appears – to receive tandem jump qualification, a jump master is required to perform 750 solo jumps, which takes a very long time and further adds to the expenses. For this reason, many skydivers choose to go to Australia or even the USA, where parachuting is cheaper and it’s much easier to gather the solo jumps needed.
While Chinese tourism in New Zealand is definitely on the rise, it has brought a number of problems in the light. For a niche service like skydiving, it’s hard to keep up with a sudden surge in demand without government funding. Still, despite the problems they’re facing, it’s almost certain that all skydiving companies in New Zealand have seen an increase in numbers over the past few years. The fact alone that skydiving is becoming a more mainstream form of adventure asks for celebration.