High dollar boosts travel

Agents expecting a busy time as people head overseas to make the most of rates.

Tropical destinations such as Queensland and Hawaii are popular places for holidaymakers.
Tropical destinations such as Queensland and Hawaii are popular places for holidaymakers.

The prospect of a prolonged high New Zealand dollar and sky-high consumer confidence has travel agents looking forward to bumper winter bookings from holidaymakers.

The currency is forecast to remain elevated for some time and consumers are the most confident they have been for nine years, according to a Westpac McDermott Miller survey.

General manager of product at Flight Centre Simon Mckearney said the data had a three-fold affect on those planning overseas holidays.

A high dollar and consumer confidence were near the top of the list for encouraging bookings. The strong currency was also good to keep fuel bills in check for dominant airline Air New Zealand.

"It does assist the airlines because if they can hedge at these better levels then their competitiveness is going to be pretty decent," Mckearney said.

However, one reason for the strong dollar - rising mortgage interest rates - could reduce discretionary spending on travel.

Mckearney said his firm was on track for its best year ever in this country and other agents were also doing well.

"We're not alone - we're all experiencing these really good conditions."

The strong currency was making all destinations less expensive and Australia and the United States, particularly Hawaii, remained popular after strong growth last year.

United States government figures show the number of New Zealand visitors to the US exceeded 164,500 for the nine months to September, up nearly 13 per cent on the same period in 2012 and on track to break 200,000 for the full year.

Air New Zealand is putting extra services in to San Francisco this year and Hawaiian Airlines - the only US carrier to fly here - says its Auckland-Honolulu route is performing strongly.

Hawaiian has been flying here for a year and during that time the number of Kiwi visitors has doubled to 50,000 a year.

The airline's chief executive and president, Mark Dunkerley, said his airline's service had stimulated traffic by itself, but the market has unquestionably benefited at the same time by the strength of the Kiwi dollar.

While a high dollar can be a deterrent for some visitors, Tourism New Zealand says 2013 was a stellar year.

"Undoubtedly, the high Kiwi dollar is a handbrake on international visitor growth. Most of our main visitor markets have weak exchange rates compared to New Zealand, which makes New Zealand a more expensive destination than it was a decade ago," a spokesman said.

There were more than 2.7 million visitors last year, up 6 per cent on 2012.

Despite the strength of the kiwi against the greenback, US visitors increased by 13.4 per cent.

The Japanese yen depreciated almost 24 per cent against the kiwi last year, but there was still a 3.4 per cent increase in visitors from Japan.

Dunkerley said the high Kiwi dollar only discouraged overseas visitors at the margins but with US mainland gateway cities for travel to New Zealand there was a big catchment.

"Travellers to Auckland from North America have typically travelled to Europe, Africa or other long-haul destinations and appreciate the varied vacation that the country provides - from luxury seekers and foodies to adrenalin junkies."

Top 10 destinations

Where Kiwis travelled in 2013:
* Sydney
* Melbourne
* Las Vegas
* Honolulu
* San Francisco
* New York
* London
* Gold Coast
* Los Angeles
* Singapore
Source: Hotels.com.

- NZ Herald

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