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Trans-Tasman tourist numbers boosted by weak NZ dollar

Friday 19th March 2010

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More Australians are hopping across the Tasman for a holiday as the weakening New Zealand dollar gives them the most spending power in almost a decade, government figures show.

Visitors from Australia climbed 12% to 1.1 million in the 12 months ended February 28, according to Statistics New Zealand. Trans-Tasman tourist growth outpaced the 2.5% increase in overall inbound tourism to 2.5 million, which is reviving mildly as the global economy slowly picks up pace.

The kiwi dollar sank to as little as 76.18 Australian cents this month, the lowest since late 2000 and down from as much as 83.23 cents last October, helped by a widening interest rate gap. The Reserve Bank of Australia began hiking interest rates in an economy that skirted recession, while New Zealand, with a more tepid recovery, kept borrowing costs at a record low. The government has stumped up funds to target visitors from Australia, matching the tourism industry dollar for dollar in a campaign aimed at stoking demand.

“Thank goodness for Australia,” said Robin Clements, chief economist at UBS New Zealand. While Australians don’t tend to spend as much money as visitors from other countries, New Zealand has become a cheap holiday alternative, so “it’s better to have them here than not.”

Prime Minister John Key announced in January that eight tourism groups would receive a share of $5 million to market their regions in Australia, with those funds to be matched by the Regional Tourism Organisations. The Joint Venture Campaigns are to provide good reasons and build a clearer picture for Australians of what New Zealand has to offer.

Air New Zealand aims to capitalise on the flows, announcing this week that it will reduce fares on trans-Tasman and Pacific routes. The first of the new fares will go on sale on June 29, for the first flights late-August.

Growth in tourism from Australia is helping make up for weaker visitor numbers from New Zealand’s other main markets. Visitors from Asia fell to 402,270 in the latest 12 months, from 437,401 a year earlier. Tourists from Europe dipped to 483,135 from 497,377 and those from the US, Canada and Brazil declined to 276,394 from 282,456.Visitors from Africa and the Middle East fell to 44,882, from 50,034.

Long-term arrivals eased from the five-year high reached in the 12 months through January. Annual net migration gained 1,060 over February to 21,600. They reached 22,600 a month earlier.

“This year’s results are a wee bit soft when looking at year on year growth, but the level of tourism is still strong,” Clements said.

The pace of net migration is expected to slow this year, with a recent pickup in Australian departures to confirm this trend. Clements said once New Zealanders realise that Australian jobs are more appealing and available; migration could take a turn for the negative.  


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