Hawkes Bay in New Zealand is a favourite among holidaygoers for its great scenery.

This has been a significant year for Malaysia and New Zealand as we celebrate 40 years of Asean-New Zealand relations — a partnership which has helped build trade and political ties, support industry growth and encourage knowledge exchange.

This month’s visit by New Zealand’s Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, John Key, to Malaysia demonstrates the strength of this relationship.

One of the key sectors contributing to this important partnership over the past four decades is tourism. This sector has driven two-way economic growth and helped to maintain a cultural exchange between Malaysia and New Zealand — something that we continue to see today.

Tourism between our two countries has come a long way in the last 40 years. In 1965, tourism from Malaysia to New Zealand was almost non-existent. Today, New Zealand welcomes more than 33,000 Malaysians to the country every year.

New Zealanders flock to Malaysia to experience the different cultures, flavours and sights the country has to offer. Whether it’s heading to the night market at Petaling Street or indulging in the wide variety of hawker food, they are looking for activities that they can’t get at home.

But, this is not a one-way street. Malaysians are looking to New Zealand for adventures and experiences not readily available at their doorstep — whether it’s getting a genuine movie-set experience at Hobbiton in the North Island or enjoying adventure sports such as white water rafting, glacier hiking or hot-air ballooning over the Canterbury Plains in New Zealand’s picturesque south.

Like our relationship with Asean over the last 40 years, the travel that Malaysians want to experience in New Zealand has evolved. Tourists traditionally travelled to main centres such as Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown where it is possible to experience the many adventures available in New Zealand as part of an organised tour.

Today, more and more Malaysians are looking to travel off the beaten track. Around half (50.3 per cent) of Malaysian visitors travelled outside the main regions in the 12 months to September this year, many enjoying the self-drive opportunities offered by New Zealand as a holiday destination.

Self-driving gives Malaysians the freedom to travel and enjoy new experiences in their own time and in their own way, and less well known areas are becoming more popular as a result. Malaysians are heading to areas such as Matakana, Hawkes Bay or Marlborough to try New Zealand’s food and farmers’ markets or exploring smaller areas like Arrowtown and Wanaka to experience New Zealand culture, the outdoors or adventure sports.

But, it’s not enough to be a great destination. To encourage tourism growth it’s important that getting to and from the country is as easy as possible for international travellers — and this is an area where New Zealand is focused.

Many Asean countries do not need a visa to visit New Zealand.  Currently Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar fall within that group.  For those countries that require a visa, the processing times are fast and the costs are minimal.

New Zealand is also working closely with partners here in Malaysia to make the country more accessible. As it is, Malaysia Airlines now operates daily non-stop return services between Auckland and Kuala Lumpur over the summer peak period and six days a week during the rest of the year.

The past 40 years of relations between Malaysia and New Zealand have encouraged a huge amount of knowledge, social and economic gain for both countries. Tourism has played a big role in helping to drive this relationship and I have no doubt that it will continue to play an important role as we continue to strengthen the partnership between our two countries in the years ahead.

The writer is regional manager, South and Southeast Asia, Tourism New Zealand