Travel business taking off quite nicely

OFF WITH A BANG: Sue Matson, Flight Centre general manager of retail, at the Wellington travel expo at TSB Bank Arena.
OFF WITH A BANG: Sue Matson, Flight Centre general manager of retail, at the Wellington travel expo at TSB Bank Arena.

Kiwis took 2.19 million overseas trips last year, as a strong dollar and increasing competition combined to see the cost of travel fall during 2013.

About 6000 people were at Wellington's Flight Centre travel expo yesterday after a record year of international passenger numbers recorded last year.

New Statistics New Zealand figures show international passenger numbers surpassed 10 million for the first time in the December 2013 year, with a total of 5m arrivals and 5m departures.

A total of 221,000 Kiwis took an overseas trip in December alone, more than before during the festive month, and up 2 per cent from December 2012.

Australia was still the dominant destination, accounting for just over 1 million departures, but the United States was becoming an increasingly popular destination for holidaymakers.

Flight Centre general manager of retail Sue Matson said travel to Hawaii had increased in popularity more than any other destination after the introduction of another airline to the market.

Flight Centre had recorded a 65 per cent increase in bookings to Hawaii in 2013, compared with the previous year.

Hawaiian Airlines began flights to Honolulu in 2013 and Air New Zealand has added capacity on its routes to North America.

"All of a sudden it starts to look a lot more appealing to people when prices start to come down," Matson said.

Air New Zealand reported demand on its North American and UK route increased 6.1 per cent in December ahead of a capacity increase of 5.9 per cent, with load factors remaining steady at 88.3 per cent.

The US was an increasingly popular destination for holidaymakers, with 142,000 jetting off there in 2013, up 17 per cent from 2012.

Matson said as well as increased competition the strength of the New Zealand dollar had also driven the takeoff in travel to the US.

The New Zealand dollar hit a high of US86.30 cents in April last year, and was trading at US81.36c late last week.

"Many years ago Hawaii used to be a very, very popular destination, but it kind of went off the boil," Matson said.

"But bringing the competition back in, it drives down the price and with the US dollar being weaker than it had been previously, all those things are a perfect storm for Hawaii."

Australia, however, continued to be New Zealand's favourite holiday destination, and was expected to be stronger still as the NZ dollar continued to strengthen.

The Kiwi had risen to above A95c this year, but it was also an easy place for New Zealanders to visit, Matson said.

The cost of travel had also continued to drop.

Flight Centre was offering flights to Melbourne and the Gold Coast yesterday at prices about 15 per cent cheaper than in 2012.

For flights to Europe, the cost had fallen about the same percentage since 2011. A return flight to London was now less than $2000.

Matson said "early bird" ticket sales had been incredibly strong so far this year, which she expected would result in another bumper year for overseas travel.

"January has started with an absolute bang."

Fairfax Media