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Australian travel to New Zealand still lagging pre-COVID levels

A Qantas A380 at Auckland’s international terminal. (Image: Auckland Airport)

Australian passenger numbers to New Zealand remain below pre-COVID levels despite arrivals from other countries surpassing figures seen in 2019.

Inbound Australian travel to New Zealand is at 83 per cent of pre-COVID, compared to the overall average of 80 per cent, according to figures cited by Auckland Airport; however, this is well below countries such as the US, UK and India, which are above pre-pandemic levels.

1.27 million Australians travelled to New Zealand in the 12 months to February 2024, compared with 1.54 million in 2019. This is NZ’s largest international visitor shortfall compared to 2019, at roughly 265,000 visitors.

“While numbers are tracking well and in-line, or even surpassing, other in-bound tourism markets, Australian tourists have an outsized impact on New Zealand’s traveller recovery because they make up such a large portion of the market,” said Auckland Airport CEO Carrie Hurihanganui at the Auckland Airport Tourism Forum on Wednesday.

One major outlier is Queenstown, which had seen 235,000 Australian visitors for the 12 months to February 2024, a 117 per cent recovery on pre-COVID figures.

While trans-Tasman airline seat capacity to Queenstown is up 17 per cent, Australia is down 13 per cent overall on 2019. Additionally, New Zealand has slipped below Indonesia as an outbound travel market for Australia, with 12 per cent of all outbound trips compared to Indonesia’s 14 per cent; NZ travel was 13 per cent of outbound trips from Australia in 2019.

“When we think of tourism, it’s often easy to think of the long-haul trips. However, our neighbours across the ditch are our number one volume visitor market,” said Hurihanganui.

“We need to ensure we remain attractive and relevant to Australian travellers as a destination in a competitive global tourism market that is also vying for high value Aussie visitors.

“One of the ways for New Zealand to attract more Australian tourists is increasing seat capacity between our two countries, leading to greater choice for travellers which also puts downward pressure on airfares. We know that airlines look for traveller demand before deploying capacity.”

The country’s flag carrier, Air New Zealand, in February said it flew almost 16 million passengers in the 2023 calendar year, including more than 5.3 million international customers.

Air New Zealand last May announced a NZ$3.5 billion investment in fleet expansion and upgrades over the next five years, with plans to buy eight new 787-9 Dreamliners and five Airbus A320neos as well as an extra 777-300ER, plus interior overhauls for its existing 14 Dreamliners.

Additionally, Qantas Group subsidiary Jetstar at the end of March began ramping up its New Zealand operations, increasing frequency on popular domestic and international routes.

It expects to reach 100 per cent of pre-pandemic domestic capacity in NZ by the middle of this year, with trans-Tasman routes almost 40 per cent higher than 2019 levels.