Auckland may not be the first New Zealand destination that springs to mind when Australians contemplate a trip across the ditch.
The South Island’s Milford Sound, ski fields and Queenstown adventure centre are more likely to appear on travellers’ bucket lists, than New Zealand’s former capital and largest city.
But Kiwi government tourism statistics suggest there is some science behind Virgin Australia’s announcement on Wednesday that it is launching flights from Newcastle to Auckland in November.
New Zealand earns just a tick over $10 billion in tourism revenue from overseas visitors each year, and the government figures show about 40 per cent of that is spent in the North Island’s Auckland region.
Travellers from Australia account for about 25 per cent of the country’s visitor spending.
A key driver of travel from Australia is New Zealanders visiting family and friends back home. These travellers accounted for more than 25 per cent of all international arrivals in the year to May 2018.
Only a very small fraction of visitors went to Auckland for business.
Asked how the new Auckland route would succeed where a Freedom Air service in 2002 failed, Virgin Australia executive Russell Shaw said passenger numbers between the two countries had been growing at five per cent a year and fares had dropped in real terms.
He said the company’s research had shown the travel market between Newcastle and Auckland was larger than any other potential overseas destination and the $350 one-way ticket price was “competitive”.
- New Zealand is the No.1 market for outbound and inbound Australian international travel
- 48,000 travellers visit NZ each year from the Newcastle Airport catchment area
- 44,000 travellers visit the Newcastle catchment each year
- Total visitation (both NZ and AU residents) between the Newcastle catchment and New Zealand is about 90,000 per year
- More than 50% of Australian travel to NZ is to the North Island
- More than 75% of the NZ population lives on the North Island
- Newcastle area travel to NZ is strongest in the summer season
- Source: Statistics NZ
Auckland, with a population of 1.5 million, is three times bigger than the capital, Wellington, the next largest metropolis in New Zealand, and is the main entry point for overseas visitors.
It is home to the largest Polynesian population in the world.
Some of the city’s main tourist attractions include the vineyards of Waiheke Island, the Hobbiton Lord of the Rings movie set about two hours away, the 328-metre Sky Tower and the dormant volcanic cones that dot the surrounding landscape.
Rotorua’s geysers and bubbling mud pools are about 230 kilometres to the south. The nearest ski field, Whakapapa, is almost five hours away.
Newcastle and Port Stephens councils, which own the airport, and Virgin will hope the tourism flows both ways. If Kiwis use the new service to connect with family, explore the Hunter and as an alternative to Sydney Airport, then the stakeholders will have backed a winner.
If other international carriers follow Virgin’s lead, even better.