NZ tourism is flying, and we're the reason

The introduction of more flights around New Zealand has been a game changer for some regions.
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The introduction of more flights around New Zealand has been a game changer for some regions.

Tourism has become the country's biggest export earner, worth $10 billion last year and tipped to surpass $15b a year by 2023.

The 3.5 million visitors who come here each year is expected to increase to 4.9 million over the same period, driven mostly by Asian markets, particularly China.

The single biggest thing visitors associated with New Zealanders was that the people were open and friendly, meaning a dairy on the way from Christchurch to Akaroa was arguably part of the tourism business, says Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.

"A lot of what we've got in this country is also existing in Canada, a lot of our mountains and landscapes and stuff are available in other parts of the world. But the single biggest thing that we see in all those post visit surveys, is 'I find the New Zealanders so lovely'.

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"I think that's the thing that is a great advertisement for our country in the world, it's just realising that how we host these visitors while they're here in our country is very important," Luxon said.

"We're in the tourism business, how we do service, how we engage with foreigners is really important."

Regional airfares fell and more Kiwis started flying when Jetstar launched on some regional routes last year.
EMMA THOMPSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Regional airfares fell and more Kiwis started flying when Jetstar launched on some regional routes last year.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

The numbers and forecasts behind tourism pipping the dairy industry are clear, but how exactly aviation contributed to that is less so.

"It's kind of a like a lubricant in a sense," Infometrics senior economist Benje Patterson says.

"It connects up the dots around New Zealand."

Visitor numbers to New Zealand are forecast to increase from 3.5 million a year to 4.9 million a year by 2023.
BEVAN READ/FAIRFAX NZ

Visitor numbers to New Zealand are forecast to increase from 3.5 million a year to 4.9 million a year by 2023.

Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood is more explicit.

"It's really important that the importance of aviation to our country doesn't get underestimated because 99.9 per cent of people come here via planes.

"Aviation, for a country like ours that is long, thing, mountainous and difficult to get around, is absolutely crucial, and if you think of it like roads of the air, those highways from the US, from Asia, Australia, through into here, absolutely enable this tourism growth."

Littlewood believes the country's economic bow now has two strings, and that tourism has helped the country at a time when dairy has struggled a bit.

Tourism has "earned its stripes", he says, which means the industry has matured and is thinking about its role as one of the country's two "incredibly value" sectors.

"I do think maybe what's still missing is the value, maybe it's being recognised now, the importance of tourism for the wider country, and I mean the regions.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says the airlines service to Buenos Aires in Argentina has led to ...
JOHN ANTHONY/FAIRFAX NZ

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon says the airlines service to Buenos Aires in Argentina has led to increased business interest between the two countries.

"It is a really great part of tourism that you don't have to move to the big smoke to make it, you can run, own, and develop your own business and employ people in your home town off the back of tourism."

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GETTING KIWIS FLYING

Infometrics last year estimated Jetstar's addition of four regional destinations had added more than $40 million to those areas.

Patterson says the addition of a second airline had seen ticket prices fall considerably and a massive increase in the number of people flying.

"Generally what they do is they actually expand the passenger market rather than cannibalising the incumbent's existing passenger base."

But the increased business connectivity is just as much part of the story.

Infometrics is hearing from a lot of businesses who are considering moving from the pricey urban centres to the regions as the number of flights expand.

Patterson has himself moved down to Queenstown this year, something only made possible by the introduction of night flights at Queenstown Airport.

Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood says tourism has earned its stripes as a major ...
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood says tourism has earned its stripes as a major contributor to New Zealand's wealth.

"That's a game-changer for people wanting to commute out of the Southern Lakes region because it means you can do same-day business connections."

Air New Zealand's Luxon says adding more than a million visitors in the last four years, something which had taken 10 years last time, was "fundamentally" good for the economy.

Tourism is 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), 12 per cent of the workforce and 17 per cent of GST receipts.

Economist Benje Patterson says aviation is the tourism "lubricant' that links the country.
SUPPLIED

Economist Benje Patterson says aviation is the tourism "lubricant' that links the country.

But for Luxon, freight and outbound travel is just as much a part of the aviation story.

He says opening up the world through more routes has helped businesses launch into destinations they otherwise would not have considered.

The airline's new connection to Buenos Aires in Argentina for example, has within a year led to talks of a business delegation travelling to gauge possible trading opportunities.

"That's why what we do has a lot of importance, not just in the tourism piece, where the people-to-people connections are established, but then capital, data and investment flow on the back of it.

"I don't know how to quantify that."

Luxon says it is important the Government appears to be taking tourism more seriously, giving the portfolio to more senior ministers: previously former prime minister, and soon-to-be Air New Zealand board member, Sir John Key, and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett.

"We're in the tourism business, how we do service, how we engage with foreigners is really important."

 - Stuff

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