Use this toolkit to maximise opportunities and unlock your tourism business’s potential.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited tourism team has put the resource together, based on the questions we get asked most often and feedback we receive from tourism operators and other industry professionals. We hope you find it useful, whatever stage your business is at.

An important first step is to prepare your business – make sure you think about the following points while developing your product.

  • Research which markets have a demand for your product: Auckland, New Zealand and international travellers. What are their basic needs and why would they consider your product?
  • Recognise your customers’ different requirements and change your product if necessary. International travellers have different needs to domestic travellers. 
  • Investigate your competition. What do they offer? Identify gaps your product could address.
  • Become familiar with tourism industry acronyms and terms.
  • Sell your destination first, then your product.
  • Talk to Auckland Unlimited to access the resources we have available.
  • Develop a business plan identifying your markets and distribution channels.
  • Consider opportunities to work or co-market with other operators in your area. For example, can you work with a transport operator to get people to your product? If there’s a cluster group in your area, find out how you could get involved.
  • Be aware of industry trends and how these may impact on your business. Free newsletters and updates are available through Auckland Unlimited and Tourism New Zealand, while MBIE produces useful tourism statistics.


Qualmark is the New Zealand tourism industry’s national quality and environmental accreditation system. It helps visitors choose high-quality accommodation, activities and transport.

Having a Qualmark rating attracts customers on many levels. It indicates you have met quality standards in areas such as safety, facilities, equipment and customer service. Qualmark operators are preferred for familiarisation visits (known as famils) and in marketing campaigns by Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) and Auckland Unlimited. 

Having a good website is the foundation for promoting your product effectively. Get this right first and then look at the following options.

  • Brochures – good for trade shows and you’ll need them when using i-SITE Visitor Information Centres.
  • Social media – used by tourism businesses to reach customers and build and maintain their reputation and brand identity. As social media popularity grows, so does your ability to reach more consumers globally. Popular networks for tourism products include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Weibo.
  • Destination media – one of the most cost-effective ways to promote your product or experience is to generate publicity, such as a story about your business in a reputable publication, on broadcast media or a news website. Publicity is different from advertising, where you pay for space to promote your business. Editorial coverage is more valuable; consumers perceive it as more credible than advertising because an independent source is writing about your business. Auckland Unlimited and Tourism New Zealand work with media internationally and domestically.
  • Familiarisations (famils) – there’s no better way of promoting your offering than inviting media, industry and the travel trade to experience it. Participants can ‘try before they buy’ and give you valuable feedback. Famils are often free of charge or at discount, and should be treated as a marketing expense. If approached to host a famil, find out as much as you can about the participants before committing. Are they part of your target market and/or what are the benefits to your business of hosting the visit? Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t think your product is suited to the group.
  • Advertising – the options are endless and you’ll likely get offered a lot of different opportunities. Do your research and choose those that fit with your product and target market. Auckland Unlimited works with McLaren Brown Media to produce the A-Z brochure. Jasons Media and AA Traveller are two other key tourism media publications.
  • Feedback – provide a platform for your visitors to give feedback, such as TripAdvisor. But remember, once your business is on these platforms all the feedback is there to stay, so you need to be ready to provide an exceptional experience.
  • Photos – great photos are essential for selling your tourism product. Invest in photography and have one or two ‘hero’ shots. These have the potential to get picked up by trade, media and organisations like Tourism New Zealand and Auckland Unlimited. Free media is great media. Auckland Unlimited also has an asset library to help you promote Auckland as a visitor destination, which includes images and videos.
  • Listings – use the free supplier listings on and Tourism New Zealand offer. If you don’t already have a listing on, register for free on Tourism New Zealand's consumer website and you’ll automatically be listed on our site too.

The travel distribution system is a complex global network of independent businesses that play a specific role in the development, promotion and purchasing of tourism experiences.

Travel distributors enable you to broaden your customer base beyond the reach of your marketing budget. They’re important to the inbound tourism industry, as overseas consumers still rely heavily on the advice of local travel experts when planning and booking their holiday – particularly consumers in long-haul and emerging markets.

How does the distribution system work?

The traditional structure of the distribution system involves:

  • inbound tour operators based in New Zealand
  • wholesalers based overseas
  • international retail agents acting as the link to international consumers.

However, this varies considerably from market to market. It’s not uncommon for an inbound tour operator to be part of a larger company that may also operate a wholesale arm in an overseas market, or for a wholesaler to also operate the travel agencies that sell its packages. As the distribution system evolves, it’s important to clearly understand the structure of the companies you work with and their relationships with other organisations.

Many travel distributors are also taking an online approach as well as offering retail services. The number of solely online travel agencies has also increased. Both online and traditional distribution partners have the opportunity to work with each other and directly with products and customers. It’s vital to understand each partner’s role and how your product can benefit from their part in the distribution network.

Inbound tour operators

Inbound tour operators (ITOs), are New Zealand-based businesses that provide itinerary planning and product selection, and coordinate the reservation, confirmation and payment of travel arrangements on behalf of their overseas clients. They bring accommodation, tours, transport and meals together to create a fully inclusive itinerary.

ITOs are the link between New Zealand tourism products and the overseas travel distributors that buy them, including travel wholesalers, direct sellers, cruise liners, travel agents, meeting planners and event planners.

The Tourism Export Council of New Zealand (TECNZ) represents a large portion of the New Zealand ITO market. Members’ details can be found on the TECNZ website to help you identify which ITOs suit your target market. 

Only engage with this sector when you are export ready. This means:

  • being already established in the domestic market
  • having booking mechanisms in place for the international market
  • being able to confirm bookings within 3-4 hours
  • having a commissionable product
  • being able to set your pricing 1-2 years in advance (ITOs’ planning timeframe).


If you plan to sell your product through the travel distribution system, you’ll need to factor commissions into your price structure. Commissions are the fees paid to the inbound tour operator, wholesaler, online and retail agent. Think of this as a marketing expense for valuable distribution you might not be able to secure on your own.

A product must be priced consistently, accurately and competitively to be successful in the market.  This requires a clear understanding of each individual cost component, including commissions and their impact on the product’s total price.

Commission rates can vary from 15% for i-SITE Visitor Information Centres and from a minimum of 20% to as high as 30% for the travel trade.

Auckland’s booming cruise sector hosts more than 250,000 passengers and crew each season and is expected to keep growing. Cruise offers significant opportunities for Auckland tourism operators, but it is a unique sector and there are a few things to keep in mind.

Three different types of cruise ships visit Auckland: full exchange, partial exchange and transit.

  • Full exchange – all passengers leave or board the ship
  • Partial exchange – only some passengers leave or board the ship
  • Transit – all passengers visit Auckland for the day and return to the ship for departure that day or the following morning.

The different ship types mean different customer profiles, and differing levels of impact on Auckland’s tourism industry.

Does your offering fit with the cruise sector?

Cruise passengers typically have limited time ashore. With an average of eight hours available, they often choose activities unique or iconic to the region. Tourism businesses keen to work in the cruise sector should consider and market something representative of Auckland.

Where does your product sit within the wider New Zealand offering?

Cruise passengers tend to choose a different activity at each port and won’t want to repeat an activity within the same voyage. Operators need to think about where their product sits within the wider New Zealand tour offering in order to gauge its potential.

Cruise ship regulations

For some product offerings, there are specific requirements on cruise lines. Before speaking to an ITO that works with the cruise lines, do some research to ensure your offering meets their regulations. An example is EcoZip Adventures, which before construction looked into cruise line safety regulations when developing their product to see what was required.

Can you cater to large numbers of visitors?

A ship to New Zealand carries on average 2250 passengers, so ITOs naturally steer towards tourism experiences that can move large amounts of visitors at a time.

Can you customise your product to the particular needs of cruise passengers?

Interested operators should bear in mind the specifications of an ideal cruise tour (e.g. time of day, age of passengers, demographics and size of group) so they can customise and deliver a product that fits with the cruise schedule and passenger needs.

What is the ideal cruise passenger tour?

To some extent every tour needs to be customised to each ship, as the passengers on board will be different. 

Half-day tours have proven very popular with cruise passengers, with the other half of the day free to spend as they wish – most cruise ships are in Auckland on transit (one-day) visits. A tour of around 4-5 hours (including travel time) is ideal as passengers can return to the ship for lunch and the tour operator can run the same tour in the afternoon if they wish.

The more popular tours tend to take passengers to places they can’t reach by public transport or walking, and offer a visit to more than one attraction. Exclusive experiences are also popular – for example, Auckland Museum offers exclusive tours for cruise guests outside of its regular hours.

How best to market your product

Working with ITOs
For your product to be pre-purchased or available on board, you’ll need to work with an ITO, also known as a ground handler, which manages shore excursions for several cruise companies. To be considered by an ITO, operators need to understand international distribution and have commission structures in place.

Many ITOs are based in Auckland and they have long lead times for cruise-related marketing. They package their land-based content 18-24 months in advance, then provide it to offshore cruise companies to package their programmes. To be included in a programme, you’ll need to:

  • show history and examples of your relationships with New Zealand-based ITOs
  • show your product is unique, and suitable and adaptable for cruise passengers
  • have factored in the appropriate commission levels for the ITO (about 25-30%).

Selling directly to cruise passengers
Passengers are increasingly seeking out tours sold online or at local i-SITE Visitor Information Centres.

Tourism businesses keen to sell their product directly to cruise passengers should:

  • update their website and ensure it is easily found by search engines
  • foster good relationships with their local i-SITE, ensuring frontline staff have experienced the product and know enough about it to sell it
  • update product availability on cruise ship days, so visitors can easily see if spaces are available.

Please note: touting or plugging to passengers on either Queens or Princes wharves is strictly prohibited. Port authority staff monitor the area.

Cruise New Zealand

Consider working with Cruise New Zealand, the country’s only cruise-specific organisation focused on destination marketing and management. Membership includes access to exclusive data and reports. Find out more about Cruise New Zealand.

Auckland Unlimited can provide expert advice and support for your tourism business. This information explain the various functions of some of the teams that work with tourism businesses. 

Tourism team

The focus of Auckland Unlimited’s wider tourism team covers four main areas: Destination development, trade partnerships, marketing and media.

Destination Development enhances the experience of visitors to Auckland by helping tourism operators develop world-class products, growing the capability of the region’s tourism operators, making Auckland visitor-friendly, and making it easier for tourism operators to do business in Auckland. You can talk to us about how we help tourism businesses with:

  • Cruise development
  • Regional development – assisting tourism operators in outlying areas to collaborate with each other to define and promote their region. Activities include working with local boards, undertaking region-specific research and organising regional famils.
  • Cluster groups – Auckland Unlimited has established nine local cluster groups that enable operators to work more closely together to promote tourism growth in their region. If you’re interested in joining a group, get in touch. 
  • Product updates – keep us up-to-date on Auckland’s tourism products by coming in and presenting your product, along with any new developments. In return, you’ll understand more about how to work with Auckland Unlimited.
  • Māori development – working closely with Māori businesses to help identify and realise their tourism aspirations. We integrate language, stories and imagery into the Tāmaki Makaurau - Auckland tourism offering and can provide advice on this to tourism operators.

Trade partnerships – we work in the tourism industry’s business to business (B2B) space by:

  • identifying strategic alliances to enhance Auckland’s profile internationally and build activity through these channels
  • provide frontline training to agents in key markets
  • partner wholesalers, airlines, retail agents and inbound operators in targeted joint venture activity to grow incremental business
  • build Auckland’s profile in high net wealth networks.

We can help connect you to inbound and offshore markets. We also host trade famils to improve the product knowledge of ITOs, wholesalers and travel agents and to directly promote Auckland tourism products to the people who sell Auckland to consumers in our target market countries.

Consumer marketing – marketing Auckland as a visitor destination to domestic and international consumers. We work with partners such as Tourism New Zealand, Auckland Airport and Flight Centre Australia to run campaigns offshore. We also develop domestic campaigns and produce marketing material such as the Auckland A-Z Guide and Explore Maps.

Our media team hosts domestic and international travel and lifestyle journalists with a focus on Australia, Asia, North America and the United Kingdom – to showcase Auckland to their audience. Media familiarisations provide some of the greatest return on investment for Auckland as a region and for individual operators. We encourage operators to view hosting media as a marketing expense that will hopefully result in exposure equating to a much higher equivalent advertising value.

Auckland Convention Bureau

Auckland Convention Bureau (ACB) is a not-for-profit, membership-based division of Auckland Unlimited focused on growing the volume and value of business events.  ACB promotes Auckland as a premier destination to hold conferences, conventions and other business events.

ACB supports event planners from businesses and associations around the world to ensure they have the information and tools they need to plan and run their business events or travel incentive programme.  

While it doesn’t actually plan the events themselves, ACB’s free and impartial advice supports conference and business event organisers find the right venues, accommodation, transport and activities.

Cities often compete to host meetings or events, and ACB helps New Zealand-based businesses and individuals bid to bring their international conferences to Auckland. This involves preparing professional bid documents, including promotional material and letters of support from relevant bodies. ACB can also work with you to offer ideas for an incentive trip to suit your needs. Incentive travel can be for more than one employee and for as many days as you choose.

Find out more about Auckland Convention Bureau.

International Education

International Education is a specialised unit within Auckland Unlimited focused on increasing Auckland’s reputation as a high-value international study destination. We also ensure fee-paying international students in the region each year enjoy their time here.

The team promotes Auckland’s tourism offerings to students as a way of showcasing the region’s liveability, while also growing the visitor economy. Many students are visited by friends and family who are keen to experience tourism products. 

Find out more about International Education.

Economic Growth

Auckland Unlimited's Economic Growth team helps Auckland businesses reach their full potential through a number of programmes and initiatives, including providing and facilitating funding, training, mentoring and opportunities to grow and innovate. 

Find out more about how Auckland Unlimited helps businesses start and grow

A number of organisations can provide valuable information for your business. Consider joining or connecting with these organisations to enable you to develop your business.

  • Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) – the government agency responsible for promoting New Zealand internationally as a visitor destination. TNZ’s marketing activity is focused on key global markets and a select group of consumers within those markets. TNZ has also put together a simple guide on how to market your tourism business internationally.
  • Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) – the largest representative body of tourism operators in New Zealand. TIA is a membership-based, private sector trade organisation with about 1500 members that make up 85 per cent of the country's tourism turnover. 
  • Tourism Export Council of New Zealand (TECNZ) – a trade association that represents the interests of the New Zealand inbound tourism industry. The TECNZ membership includes inbound tour operators (full members) and attraction, activity, accommodation and transport suppliers (allied members). 
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) – MBIE is a catalyst for a high-performing economy to ensure New Zealand’s lasting prosperity and well-being. A key function is to develop and implement policy. MBIE provides policy advice to the government, and implements a wide range of economic policy including tourism. It also collects and shares valuable tourism data.
  • New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) – the government’s national economic development agency, NZTE aims to improve the international competitiveness and sustained profitability of New Zealand business by providing access to people, knowledge and opportunities.
  • New Zealand Māori Tourism – the national representative body for the Māori tourism sector, New Zealand Māori Tourism provides an accessible point of contact with Māori tourism operators and stakeholders. Based in Wellington, it is charged by the government with implementing the country’s Māori Tourism Action Plan to harness the fast-growing Māori tourism sector, and enhance New Zealand’s overall tourism offer.
  • China Toolkit – designed to inform your business about the Chinese visitor market and to enable you to develop and deliver experiences that Chinese visitors will value and enjoy. 

i-SITE Visitor Information Centres

Auckland has three official Visitor Information Centres (i-SITEs):

  • Auckland International Airport
  • Princes Wharf

The i-SITEs may be an effective distribution channel for your product. Auckland i-SITEs provide free and unbiased information to a wide range of markets – free independent travellers (FIT), visiting friends and relatives (VFR), cruise passengers and students. Products booked include transport options, accommodation, activities and attractions, day tours, and packaged country-wide tours.
Placing your brochure at an i-SITE does not guarantee regular business. Working with i-SITE staff should be a long-term commitment. Your marketing strategy should include regular sales calls to the i-SITEs and providing training and familiarisations for the staff to personally experience your product. That will give them confidence to recommend your product to visitors.


Tātaki Auckland Unlimited Business Support Helpdesk

Whether you’re looking to start, grow, innovate or export, we can point you in the right direction to find people, resources and programmes to support your business on its growth journey.