Why Kaikōura topped Airbnb's global trending destinations list

The coastal town landed on the world's radar after being struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2016.
The coastal town landed on the world's radar after being struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2016. Photo credit: File

Kaikōura may be a small coastal town in little ol' New Zealand, but it topped Airbnb's list of trending destinations for 2019 - and the company's head of policy reckons he knows why. 

Airbnb's annual best destinations list is based on a combination of booking, search and wish-list growth data, and aims to emphasise lesser-known regions, towns and cities.  

The South Island town landed on the world's radar after being struck by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in 2016. This year it has seen an almost 300 percent spike in bookings compared to last year, hence its top spot on Airbnb's list. 

"That speaks to travellers seeking to avoid a mass tourism experience and looking for a healthy tourism experience," Airbnb's head of global policy Chris Lehane, a former expert in opposition research for the Clinton White House, told Newshub. 

With transportation services now back online, visitors to Kaikōura can view seals and other marine life in the waters surrounding the historic whaling town. According to Airbnb, places like Kaikōura with an interesting history are attracting more tourists. 

"People are going there, having an incredible experience. It's authentic, it's local, it's diverse, it's inclusive, and it's sustainable," said Mr Lehane. 

The US political consultant praised New Zealand's "authentic" image, telling Newshub "people travel [to New Zealand] and they have an incredible experience". 

"I do think there is just something special about the people here. It's a pretty powerful tool and incredible brand that New Zealand has.

"Brands only work if there's actual authenticity and integrity to it and we see that in our data - you experience first-hand when you're here and when you meet Kiwis around the world."

Mr Lehane's praise for New Zealand didn't stop there. He said the country has become a bastion for the "open-world" view, and "punches way above its weight in terms of having a global brand out there as a place that does stand for an open world and acceptance". 

Climate change is another area in which the country has "really led", he said, as well as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's global notoriety. In September she delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly calling for collaborative action on the issue. 

Mr Lehane said having a "globally well-known" female leader has "only enhanced and contributed to that Kiwi brand out there". 

New Zealand's also set to host significant global events in the coming years, such as the America's Cup in 2021 and the APEC summit the same year, which he said will only increase the country's international profile. 


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