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

Jim Eagles: The upside of the economic crisis

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Travellers can benefit in these straightened times.

Welcome to 2009 . . . and to a year that looks likely to be a difficult one on the travel front.

The global economic crisis means a lot of people now have less money to spend on seeing the world.

After flying high for some time the Kiwi dollar has crashed and burned making trips abroad a lot more expensive.

And to make matters worse, concerns about climate change are increasingly being used to excuse - speciously, in my opinion - surcharges on long distance travel.

So, chances are fewer people will be coming here to enjoy all that New Zealand has to offer, and fewer of us will be able to afford to explore Europe and Asia, America and Antarctica.

But, don't despair, there is a bright side to all this. The economic slowdown means fuel prices have dropped dramatically and as a result air fares are coming back down.

For instance, in the past three months Air New Zealand has reduced its transtasman fares by an average of 15 per cent, cut its Pacific Island fares twice and significantly increased the number of cheap seats available on its domestic services.

In addition, in order to attract clients, most travel operators are offering special deals. If you're planning a trip, then more than ever it's worth shopping around for bargains, including taking a good look at the items in our Hot Deals column.

And things could get even better if the Government and the airport companies play their part. As part of its plan to combat the downturn the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore is offering a 25 per cent landing fee rebate for airlines operating flights at Changi Airport.

What a good idea. Why don't our airports do the same? Of course the airport companies will doubtless object that they need to keep their charges up to maintain profits in the face of declining patronage. But, surely, if the idea of cutting prices to attract customers works for airlines, hoteliers and tour operators it should also work for airports.

And, anyway, there's a fair amount of evidence that the likes of Auckland International Airport has been exploiting its monopoly position and that a cut in charges is long overdue.

Those who follow such things may recall that a year ago, during the kerfuffle about the airport company possibly being bought by scary foreigners, the previous Government finally moved to impose a stricter regulatory regime on Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports and also instructed the Commerce Commission and Ministry of Economic Development to carry out further investigations into airport charges.

Since that deal fell over, not much has been heard on the topic but this looks like the perfect time to revive the issue. Lower landing charges would mean cheaper airfares, making it more attractive for foreign tourists to come here rather than, say, Australia.

It would also make it cheaper for Kiwis to take advantage of those spare seats and empty beds left vacant by hard-up foreigners and explore our own country.

After all, people come from all over the world to enjoy the sight of the two oceans meeting at Cape Reinga, geysers erupting at Rotorua, glowworms twinkling at Waitomo, whales diving at Kaikoura, jetboats zooming up braided rivers, Mitre Peak glistening in the setting sun, and kiwis wandering down the deserted beaches of Stewart Island. This is the perfect time for us to enjoy those sights, too.

- NZ Herald

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