Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Holiday budgets take a huge hit

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So there you were, happily building your holiday funds, when out of nowhere (sort of) comes chaos on world markets - savaging vulnerable corners of the world and smashing the value of the New Zealand dollar.

Within a couple of weeks, your holiday account has gone the same way as Fonterra's sales in China.

The nice little break you were planning in Asia, North America or Europe may have to be delayed or dropped because the dollar is buying so much less virtually everywhere.

After riding for the last year or two on the back of a dollar stoked by high interest rates and stable economic conditions, travelling New Zealanders are now starting to feel the chill of the currency slide.

The raw statistics tell it all. The New Zealand trade weighted index, which measures the value of the New Zealand dollar against the currencies of our major trading partners, reached a peak of 77.23 points on July 24 last year.

Last week, the index was down to about 60 points - representing a slide of more than 20 per cent.

In July last year, you'll remember, exporters were wringing their hands about the damage caused by a dollar sitting at more than US81c - nearly A92c, more than UK39p and at 97.75 yen.

But Kiwi travellers were having a ball, enjoying the spending power of a dollar with plenty of muscle.

Now, of course, that muscle has withered away.

The hotel room in San Francisco that gave you a little change from $200 a night last July has reached about $245, and the slap-up Tokyo dinner for two with the eye-watering $375 bill would now have you really weeping because today it's more than $500.

Fortunately for travellers, the Australian dollar has been savaged almost as much as our own this month and, last week anyhow, the kiwi was holding up fairly well across the Tasman, even if foreign exchange experts expect the gap to widen again soon.

In Britain, our other great traditional haunt, the pound was also getting hammered, which at least allowed us to stay comfortably above the time-honoured benchmark three-for-one ratio, even if we were down 9 per cent since July last year.

But across the channel to Euroland, the purchasing power of the New Zealand dollar is looking very shaky.

A croissant and coffee in an ordinary back-street Paris cafe would have cost about $6.25 last July. Today, it's up to $7.65.

The slide has been most dramatic against the Japanese yen and the PNG kina (both down 34 per cent), the Swiss franc (a drop of nearly 27 per cent) and the Singapore dollar (dipping 25 per cent).

But our dollar isn't that much of a basket case, is it?

Surely, there are appealing places in the world where we can get as good a deal today as we managed in July last year?

Appealing is the key.

We might be able to slip into the odd war zone more cheaply than we could back then, but more attractive options are very limited.

Only two of the 26 currencies the Herald features in its daily business section currency chart have declined in value against the dollar during the last 15 months.

If Korea is in your sights, you should be reasonably pleased. At last week's rates, the kiwi was buying about 4 per cent more in Korean won than it was in July last year.

The other winners are travellers heading for South Africa.

As the rand also has its problems, the kiwi is 2.5 per cent stronger now than it was back then.

Elsewhere, though, it's going to be tough going for most travellers.

At times like this, New Zealanders seeking a break could do as the Americans do.

When they face a crisis, whether it's fuelled by security or economic issues, they hunker down and stay at home.

A couple of weeks in Northland or the West Coast may not seem quite as alluring as a fortnight in Tuscany or the Maldives, but at least we know $5 or $6 will still buy a flat white and muffin in Mangonui or Hokitika.

- Bruce Morris

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