"Where the bloody hell are ya?”* - Opportunities for growth in the Australian inbound tourism market

08 May 2024

  • Australian visitor numbers have recovered to 83% of pre-Covid levels (above market average of 80%) but show largest visitor number shortfall
  • Auckland Airport announces partnership with RotoruaNZ and Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, focusing on attracting more Australian leisure travellers

Tourism operators are looking for ways to dial up inbound visitation from one of New Zealand’s most important tourism markets.

At the Auckland Airport Tourism Forum today, the latest numbers for inbound travellers showed that international inbound tourism has surged back – currently at 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels with 3.1 million overseas visitors arriving in the 12 months to February 2024, compared to 3.9 million during the same period in 2019. United States, United Kingdom and India are all above pre-Covid levels.

Australia sits above the average at 83 per cent recovered since 2019, however, the gap in the Australian inbound tourism recovery represents New Zealand’s largest visitor volume shortfall (-265,000 visitors) compared to pre-Covid.

Speaking at the forum, Auckland Airport’s Chief Executive Carrie Hurihanganui said: “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.

“That’s why we’re bringing the industry together today. We need to discuss the opportunities and identify solutions to help accelerate the recovery of our number one visitor market.”

The forum, which takes place every year prior to the opening of New Zealand’s tourism business event TRENZ, revealed there were 1.27 million Australian visitors who travelled to New Zealand overall in the 12 months to February 2024, compared with 1.54 million in 2019.

Queenstown is the only real outlier, with visitor numbers surpassing pre-pandemic numbers, at 117 per cent recovery of 2019, with 235,000 Australian visitors arriving (as at February 2024).

For the rest of the country (excluding Queenstown), the visiting friends and family recovery is at 86 per cent of 2019 levels, whereas leisure/holiday demand is behind, at 70 per cent of 2019 levels.

Ms Hurihanganui said this provides a good opportunity for New Zealand's tourism sector to focus its combined efforts on the Australian tourism market and look for ways to drive growth from the in-bound Australian market.

“Aotearoa New Zealand is a beautiful and desirable destination, but we know we have work to do in continuing to attract Australian tourists here and ensuring other parts of New Zealand join Queenstown in being a holiday hot spot.”

Pre-Covid, Australia made up 40 per cent of all international visitors to New Zealand, making it the biggest in-bound tourism market.

In 2019, New Zealand was a priority destination for Australians, making up 13 per cent of all of their outbound international trips. This is now down to 12 per cent, compared to Indonesia which is topping the travel destination list at 14 per cent of all Australian outbound trips, making it the largest destination market (1.4 million Australian trips).

Ms Hurihanganui said, “Our forum today is all about shining a light on the important Australian market and coming together as a tourism industry to find solutions.

“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. 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.”

Airline seat capacity overall between Australia and New Zealand has fallen 13 percent compared to pre-Covid levels, while trans-Tasman seat capacity to Queenstown is up 17 percent.

To help keep New Zealand on the radar of Australian tourists, Auckland Airport, Tātaki Auckland Unlimited and RotoruaNZ have come together to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The partners will work together on attracting Australian leisure tourists to visit both Auckland and Rotorua in a single trip, showcasing the unique set of experiences these two Kiwi destinations in combination have to offer.

Ms Hurihanganui said, “We're thrilled to work with our partners, promoting Rotorua as a top holiday pick alongside Auckland. Our aim is that flying to Auckland, visiting the Auckland region and then travelling to Rotorua becomes a popular itinerary choice for Aussie travellers looking for the ultimate Kiwi get-away.

“We try to make it a priority to contribute to key discussions about tourism and we want to do our bit to help,” she said.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited’s Director Destination Annie Dundas said, Tāmaki Makaurau offers a great break for visitors.

“It’s a region surrounded by nature and we have beautiful islands right on our doorstep. Rotorua is a vibrant cultural and adventure destination with so much to see and do. Our aim is to share experiences in both Auckland and Rotorua that are distinctly different from what you can get in Sydney, for example a day trip to Waiheke Island or a geothermal and Māori experience in Rotorua.

“We will be working in partnership to encourage Australians to enjoy what our largest city has on offer combined with all that Rotorua provides,” says Ms Dundas.

RotoruaNZ Chief Executive Andrew Wilson said, “We’re really excited about the opportunities this partnership presents and look forward to working closely with Auckland Airport and Tātaki Auckland Unlimited to increase visibility in the Australian market and drive visitation. It’s great to be aligned with a destination such as Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, and work together on shared goals and aspirations for our visitor economies.”

At the forum, in addition to Ms Hurihanganui, today’s speakers and panel included:

  • Accor, Director of Commercial – New Zealand and Fiji, Iain Ganner
  • Auckland Airport, Chief Customer Officer, Scott Tasker
  • Auckland Airport, Manager Aeronautical Commercial, Mick Cottrell
  • Flight Centre Travel Group Australia, Global Head Of Marketing, Clint Hearne
  • New Zealand Cruise Association, Chief Executive Officer, Jacqui Lloyd
  • Publicis Groupe Australia New Zealand, Chief Data Officer, Maurice Riley
  • Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Director Destination, Annie Dundas
  • Tourism New Zealand, General Manager International, Angela Blair

*Today’s headline “Where the bloody hell are ya?” references the famed 2006 tourism campaign from Australia, aimed at attracting tourists to Australia.


Notes to editors:

  • Auckland Airport contributes significantly to tourism each year through its air service development programme, which works to improve international air capacity supply, connectivity and traveller choice to/from New Zealand’s main gateway. The Airport also works with its airline and tourism partners including Tourism New Zealand, Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Destination Queenstown and RotoruaNZ to drive high value international visitor demand to New Zealand.
  • Auckland Airport has investments in three hotels on site at the airport including the IBIS budget hotel as well as the Novotel Auckland Airport and Te Arikinui Pullman Auckland Airport Hotel, which are owned through its partnership with Tainui Group Holdings.
  • RotoruaNZ is the regional tourism organisation and economic development agency for the Rotorua district. Their purpose is to unlock the economic potential of Rotorua whilst promoting Rotorua as a premier destination for work, education, travel, investment, and residence.
  • Tātaki Auckland Unlimited is Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s economic and cultural agency committed to making our region a desirable place to live, work, visit, invest and do business. To find out more visit aucklandunlimited.com.

Images: An image from the event will be supplied later today.