Makeover Monday – Week 4, 2017: International Tourism Spend in New Zealand

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This week’s data takes us all the way to a beautiful little country at the end of the earth. That’s what it feels like to live there and it certainly is far from most people’s minds and their maps as they were designed with Europe at the centre of everything.

But New Zealand, this humble nation downunder, thousands of kilometers even from its neighbouring big brother, Australia, is such a cool place that I thought more people should learn about it. That’s the reason why I chose to find an NZ data story for this week’s makeover challenge.

Aside from that, I’ve been looking for more localised content that goes beyond UK and US or global data and am pleased to have found some data on NZ tourism spending as well as an optional data set with geospatial data for all those contributors who want to do some mapping.

Let’s start with the original viz…


In the accompanying notes, provide a lot of information around the data, where it was sourced from, how it was collected and what limitations there are, as well as what’s included and excluded. The notes proved to be very useful for understanding the data and I hope that all those who participate in this week’s challenge read the notes as well…

What I like about it:

  • Despite the multiple colours, it is actually a fairly simple bar chart with the height of the bar indicating the regional tourism index by month across three different years
  • The colours are quite distinct from each other, so are easy enough to differentiate but still work fairly well together as a palette; the legends are prominent but not ‘in the way’
  • The baseline index of 100 (from 2008) is stated in the subheading, which helps to put the results into perspective
  • The data source is listed (this is always a favourite of mine!)
  • The heading is succinct
  • The gridlines are kept to a minimum so they guide the viewer without cluttering up the viz

What I don’t like:

  • It would help if the main heading specified that the tourism spend is shown as an index rather than a dollar figure, which is what people would likely assume when they first read it
  • With the calendar year shown in the usual order, the story to me has a negative connotation because in both charts we can see a dip as the year progresses before spend picks up again.
    Given that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed from those in the Northern Hemisphere, so the middle of the year is winter and therefore low season.
    I think it would be more reflective of the overall trend of increased tourism spend to align the months accordingly and start the x-axis with either June (the beginning of winter, the lowest month usually) or September (the beginning of spring and when tourism tends to pick up)
  • As much as I love bar charts, I think they’re not perfect for visualizing this kind of comparison of different years across months. With the above visualisation I find myself ‘starting from scratch’ every month and rethinking what I’m looking at. I’d like to be able to see the overall trend much more easily and at first glance.
  • A bit of commentary or some annotations would be nice to explain some of the pattern or point out certain events that may have impacted the data.

What I did:

(Click for the interactive version)


  • I wanted to created a bit of a story rather than ‘fixing’ what I didn’t like in the original chart, so I opted for a long-format dashboard with three sections
  • I opted for a black colour scheme which I decided on right away. New Zealand has a strong association with the colour black, thanks to its sporting teams, so it is involved in branding all over the place, especially with Tourism NZ.
  • I had a grand design in mind, but I lack the skills for it so after some initial experimenting I dropped the lofty ideas and settled for simplicity instead
  • As a German who lived in NZ for 8 years and also has an NZ passport, I found the focus on international visitors more interesting so I stuck to that
  • As part of my iterative data exploration I created a simple line chart for international visitors and flicked through each region to see where the interesting trends were. I had thought that The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings would provide an interesting angle and the data confirmed this and the story started to come together
  • I decided to focus on the region of Matamata-Piako where the Hobbiton film set is located. This region has seen a huge growth in tourism spend over the last years and that’s what I wanted to show
  • Colour wise I needed to find something that goes well with the black background. White has the strongest contrast so that was the main colour for the line charts and labels etc. As a secondary colour and to highlight Matamata as the focus of my story, I picked a golden hue of deep yellow which aims to remind people of the ring from the movies.
  • To provide a bit of context of where Matamata actually is, I wanted to include a map as well. New Zealand is so far away, most people don’t really know much about its geography. So here’s a chance to learn more and I included a small map highlighting the region in focus.
  • Lastly I added some text boxes listing data sources and my details and applied the final formatting.
  • This viz took longer than 1 hour. I probably wasted 1 hour trying to be artsy before going back to the start. The core content and main formatting took around 2 hours, then some fine tuning and layout changes before I was finished.

Andy promised me that it wouldn’t hurt if I tried to go for the long-format layout and he’s right, it wasn’t that bad. I tend to prefer to see ‘everything on a page’, but it’s nice to have more room. Containers can still be a headache but for the most part it was easy to use this format and allowed me to think in ‘sections’ or chapters. Check out how Andy approached the challenge this week here

I genuinely hope that everyone who participates this week enjoys this dataset and learning a little about Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, and a stunning place on this planet that you ought to visit at some point.

If you want to read something non-data related on the topic, feel free to check out an article I wrote last year during our visit to Wellington before moving to Germany…


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