No NZ sign yet of Aussie belt-tightening

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 16:53 18/06/2014
Coronet Peak
JAMES/ALLAN/Fairfax NZ

NOT DAUNTED: The first skiiers of the 2014 season at Queenstown's Coronet Peak.

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Australia's economic slowdown and government cuts could hit the number of Australians taking trips across the Tasman, New Zealand tourism operators say.

Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand (TIANZ) acting chief executive Chris McGeown said that despite a bleak economic outlook in Australia, the industry was not reducing visitor or visitor spending targets.

But he said the economic slowdown could "potentially" affect the number of Australians who travelled to New Zealand for a holiday each year.

TIANZ's latest figures show that for the year ending April 2014, Australian visitor numbers were up 5 per cent to 1.2 million.

Australia is New Zealand's largest tourism market.

Australian visitors spent $2.2 billion in the year to March 30, before Australian Government budget spending cuts were announced.

McGeown said it was premature to say how the New Zealand tourist sector would be affected.

"We'll be watching the market closely to identify any changes as early as possible," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott last month delivered a "Black Budget," with deep spending cuts and a deficit levy that will tax incomes over A$180,000 ($194,000) a year by an extra 2 per cent until 2017.

Wealthy tourists are being targeted by the industry, but tourism leaders said any impact would be delayed.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said that despite the economic belt-tightening in Australia, the airline's trans-Tasman flights were full.

"Yes, there has been some devaluation in their dollar, yes, there have been slowing sectors, but no, [we] haven't seen any impact on our trans-Tasman traffic," he said.

Air New Zealand's Seats to Suit pricing model on Tasman flights appealed to Australian and New Zealand short-stay travellers on a budget, Luxon said.

Air New Zealand has close to 55 per cent market share on the trans-Tasman routes.

Luxon said the carrier's decision this month to order a new fleet of Airbus A320 and slightly larger A321 aircraft for the route demonstrated its longer-term confidence in the Australian market.

The first of the new aircraft are due to be delivered next year.

NZSki, which runs the Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt and Remarkables ski areas, said it expected another influx of Australians despite the belt-tightening in Canberra.

NZSki sales and marketing manager Craig Douglas said Australian government handouts after the global financial crisis led to "a huge boost in Aussie ski tourists" in the 2009 and 2010 winters.

"All things being equal, the rate of growth will slow," he said.

"However, we know that when people are forced to cut back they will still holiday, but just closer to home, and New Zealand has much closer skifields than Europe or North America."

Coronet Peak opened on June 7 and Queenstown was already "filling with Australian tourists".

Porters ski area marketing manager Guy Nurse said that because the extra tax affected only earners over A$180,000, they would still consider a South Island ski break if Australian snow conditions were poor.

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