New Zealand 'still a safe place' for travellers despite Grace Millane's alleged murder – tourism chiefs

New Zealand is considered a safe country to visit, but a number of tourists have died violently during their stay here.

Grace Millane, 22, a British tourist, was allegedly murdered shortly after arriving in the country earlier this month for a dream trip.

Tourism leaders say New Zealand is still a safe place to visit, despite the alleged murder of Grace Millane. Photo / Supplied
Tourism leaders say New Zealand is still a safe place to visit, despite the alleged murder of Grace Millane. Photo / Supplied

Her body was discovered yesterday in the Waitakere Ranges and a 26-year-old man appeared in court this morning charged with her murder.

Sadly, it is not the first time a foreign tourist has met a violent end while travelling in New Zealand.

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The body of Kayo Matsuzawa, a Japanese student studying English, was found dumped in a utility cupboard of an central Auckland building in 1998. Her killer has not been found.
The body of Kayo Matsuzawa, a Japanese student studying English, was found dumped in a utility cupboard of an central Auckland building in 1998. Her killer has not been found.

• Kayo Matsuzawa, 29, a Japanese woman studying English in Christchurch, was found dead in September 1998. Her naked body had been dumped in a utility cupboard in the Centrecourt Building on Auckland’s Queen St. That was 10 days after the last sighting of her on CCTV crossing Queen St. She had been staying at the Queen Street Backpackers Hostel in Fort St. The police said this year they had a new suspect after the case featured in a television series on unsolved murders.

• Birgit Bauer, 28, a Germany backpacker, was picked up by Michael Scott Wallace in a ute when she was hitch-hiking from Whanganui to Taranaki in 2005. Her beaten and stabbed body was found at Lucy’s Gully, southwest of New Plymouth. Wallace was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

Karen Aim's mother Peggy at Karen's grave in Orkney, Scotland. Karen was murdered in Taupo in 2008. Photo / John Howell.
Karen Aim’s mother Peggy at Karen’s grave in Orkney, Scotland. Karen was murdered in Taupo in 2008. Photo / John Howell.

• Karen Aim, 27, a Scottish tourist, was hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat as she walked home from a night out in Taupo in January 2008. Jahche Broughton, 14 at the time, was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

Czech tourist Dagmar Pytlickova was killed near Waimate in South Canterbury in 2012 by a man who then took his own life.
Czech tourist Dagmar Pytlickova was killed near Waimate in South Canterbury in 2012 by a man who then took his own life.

• Dagmar Pytlickova, 31, a Czech tourist, was killed by Waimate digger driver Jason Frandi, 43. He had given Pytlickova, who was hitchhiking, a lift in his silver BMW from Central Otago in May 2012. He drove her to a remote forest area outside Waimate in South Canterbury where he sexually assaulted and killed her, and took his own life.

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• Margery Hopegood, an English tourist, was stabbed to death in a Hamilton public toilet in 1992. Wayne Glenn Tokotahi Paekau, 29 at the time of his conviction, in 1992, was jailed for life for murder.

• Jae Hyeon Kim, 25, a South Korean student, was murdered when hitch-hiking on the West Coast in 2003 and buried in a shallow grave near Charleston, south of Westport.
In 2010, Nelson beneficiary Shannon Brent Flewellen, 30 at the time, was jailed for more than 16 years. Hayden McKenzie was previously sentenced to life with a non-parole term of 21 years. Flewellen’s sentencing judge said both men had neo-Nazi beliefs and it was a racist killing.

Swedish tourists Heidi Paakkonen and Urban Hoglin went missing in 1989 in the Coromandel bush. Paakkonen (pictured) hasn't been found. David Tamihere was convicted of their murders.
Swedish tourists Heidi Paakkonen and Urban Hoglin went missing in 1989 in the Coromandel bush. Paakkonen (pictured) hasn’t been found. David Tamihere was convicted of their murders.

Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin (pictured) and Heidi Paakkonen went missing in the Coromandel bush in 1989. Hoglin's body was found in 1991. David Tamihere was convicted of their murder.
Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin (pictured) and Heidi Paakkonen went missing in the Coromandel bush in 1989. Hoglin’s body was found in 1991. David Tamihere was convicted of their murder.

• Urban Hoglin, 23, and Heidi Paakkonen, 21, Swedish tourists, disappeared after they entered the bush near Thames in 1989. David Tamihere was convicted of their murders in 1990 and spent nearly 20 years in prison. Hoglin’s body was found in 1991, after Tamihere’s conviction. Paakkonen’s body has not been found.

British backpacker Monica Cantwell was murdered in Mt Maunganui in 1989. Photo / Supplied
British backpacker Monica Cantwell was murdered in Mt Maunganui in 1989. Photo / Supplied

• Monica Cantwell, 24, was raped and murdered by Charles John Coulam in November 1989 near the summit of Mt Maunganui. Cantwell was strangled and left lying semi-naked about 50 metres from the track. Her body was found three days later after her friends reported her missing. Coulam was sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder. In 1996 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and transferred from prison to a mental health facility. In 2016 Coulam was denied parole because he was considered to be “at serious risk of criminal behaviour”.

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New Zealand “very safe” – hostel chief

Tourism leaders have emphasised that New Zealand remains a safe place to travel, despite the alleged murder Millane.

Youth Hostel Association New Zealand chief executive Mark Wells told Newstalk ZB the wide international coverage of the 22-year-old British tourist’s disappearance and death would change some people’s perceptions of New Zealand.

But he emphasised that New Zealand remained a “very safe place to visit”.

The discovery of Millane’s body in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges yesterday came only hours after three tourists were assaulted and robbed in central Nelson by up to six people.

“Obviously these are distressing events for everyone affected by them,” Wells said, “and it is likely to influence some people’s perception of safety in New Zealand, but generally I think New Zealand is still a very safe place to visit despite these pretty serious incidents.”

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall said travellers wouldn’t necessarily blame New Zealand for Millane’s death.

Most tourists realised travelling carried some inherent risks, he said. Travelling in New Zealand was no different, although, comparatively, New Zealand was considered to be a very safe place to travel.

A large amount of data had been collected on perceptions of New Zealand as a destination, and 98 per cent of the time people’s expectations of the country were met or exceeded, including safety, England-Hall said.

Wells said the Youth Hostel Association advised people to stay alert to what was happening around them.

“There will be risks that emerge that they need to identify and mitigate but that’s normal in everyday life in every country and in any situation.”

“But we don’t believe that that’s a common occurrence for people who stay in our hostel network.”

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said the weekend attack on tourists in her city was intolerable and contrary to the hospitality locals normally offered to visitors. Nelson was generally safe for visitors.

“We are very proud of our city and region and love sharing it with those who take the time to visit us. Please rest assured that a warm welcome is the norm and this terrible incident is the exception.”

She urged anyone with information about the attack to contact the police.

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