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China is set to become a significant source of visitors to Christchurch and New Zealand.

I recall early Chinese visitors on the trams. Initially they lacked a little of the sophistication of the Japanese visitors we had become acquainted with. I was therefore impressed by the speed at which visitors from China became a new wave of accomplished travellers.

Last weekend I spent an enjoyable half-day joining Tan Xiutian, Consul General of China in Christchurch, her husband Zhang (Jason) and family members on some Welcome Aboard attractions: Caterpillar Botanic Gardens Tour, Punting on the Avon, and the Christchurch Tram.

The Gardens Tour began following an exchange of gifts between the Chinese VIP visitors and Welcome Aboard Managing Director Michael Esposito. Consul General Tan Xiutian presented Michael with an impressive book of New Zealand photographs compiled by Jason. The text included an English translation. I quickly made friends with Jason, an accomplished photographer.

Also impressive were our staff assigned to escort the Chinese group: Jurgen Wagner (Gardens Tour), Adrian Ramsay (Punting) and Valerie Mayer (Tram).

Jurgen impressed with his in-depth knowledge of the Botanic Gardens and his style of commentary.

“There are 2000 trees in the Botanic Gardens and each one has a story,” he told us, before saying, “I know the stories of about 1,900 of them.” Interestingly, Jurgen has attracted commendable respect from Botanic Gardens gurus for his botanical knowledge and Caterpillar commentary.

It was a glorious morning for a punt trip from the Antigua Boat Sheds. Autumn colours are appearing along the river. Adrian was able to greet the VIPs with a little Mandarin.

This was followed by a ride from the Museum to New Regent Street on Tram No. 11, the immaculate Box Car, with Valerie in charge.

When I asked (over a Chinese lunch in Cathedral Junction) what stood out as a visitor attraction, the Consul General enthused, “All of it.”

She expressed a wish for China Southern Airlines to make Christchurch a regular destination.  The airline had recently visited, making the inaugural visit of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Jason said a problem with Chinese visitors is their rush to get through the South Island. It has been a long-time problem for Asian visitors.

He would recommend spending two days in Christchurch. Welcome Aboard attractions could easily provide a day’s great activities – something to work on perhaps.

When we parted, going our separate ways, I had made some new friends.

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