3 Mar 2023

Hopes of tourism boost pinned on increase in return flights from China

2:10 pm on 3 March 2023
The first fights from across the Tasman landed in New Zealand after the border reopened on 13 April 2022.

Auckland Airport's chief customer officer Scott Tasker hopes the flights will boost activity in the tourism sector (file image). Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Tourism businesses are set to get an Autumn boost as Auckland Airport ramps up its services to China.

The number of return flights among the three airlines that connect Auckland to mainland China - China Southern, China Eastern and Air New Zealand - will increase from 11 a week to 19 at the end of March, with another three services added in early May.

Auckland Airport's chief customer officer Scott Tasker hoped it would boost activity in the tourism sector.

"Pre-Covid, China was our second largest visitor market," he said.

"We had around 400,000 Chinese visitors a year and increasingly, they were staying longer they were travelling around more of the country and they were spending more, so the return of Chinese visitors is certainly going to be helpful for our tourism industry.

"And like travellers globally, Chinese have been looking forward to being able to travel again as Covid restrictions reduce, so there is significant pent-up demand."

Tasker said New Zealand was seen as a high-quality destination offering a range of unique experiences.

The first official Chinese tour group to arrive in Aotearoa since early 2020 will arrive at Auckland Airport on Friday afternoon.

"Chinese independent travellers have been able to visit New Zealand since late January, but it's a significant step for the local tourism industry that we can warmly welcome back Chinese group visitors," Tasker said.

New Zealand was among the 20 outbound travel destinations to restart group tours under the China Approved Destination Status (ADS) scheme, he said.

Tasker said the extra services coincided with a traditional slowing-down period in seasonal services from North America and the extra capacity was expected to smooth the cycle.

Tasker said the improved connectivity with China would also be welcome news to New Zealanders with Chinese friends and whānau.

"We have a large local population with friends and family in China, plus the increase in flights give Kiwi's heading overseas some more flight options to explore China, wider Asia or onward into Europe."

The extra flights were expected to ease freight capacity on a key trading route, as the bellyhold of passenger aircraft traditionally provided 80 percent of the airport's air freight capacity.

China was Auckland Airport's second largest airfreight market with volumes growing 13 percent year-on-year and up 5.5 percent on 2019, despite Covid restrictions, Tasker said.

"China is New Zealand's largest trade partner, so ramping up air capacity is really important for those exporters that are sending high-value, perishable goods to the Chinese market, for example, fresh milk, lobster and fish.

"So having more choice and more capacity helps those exporters get their goods to market and of course, China is an important place where we obtain a lot of manufactured goods, so the ability to efficiently import goods from China is really helpful as well."

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