The already booming United States tourism market is set for a boost at the end of the year with Air New Zealand's new Auckland to Chicago route.
The new three-times a week service will provide more than 85,000 seats on the route and it is estimated it will inject around $70 million into the New Zealand economy each year.
Air NZ chief revenue officer Cam Wallace said the airline would target the premium leisure market in the United States northeast. It was expected that there would be a reasonably even split between inbound US tourists and Kiwis heading to Chicago and beyond.
Across all its international routes, the airline has a higher proportion of New Zealanders heading overseas.
''We will start marketing very aggressively in the Chicago region to stimulate the demand and get people to New Zealand. Importantly for the New Zealand tourism industry our target is premium leisure,'' said Wallace.
Chicago will be the fourth non-stop mainland route to the United States and the first direct flight linking New Zealand to the northeast.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall said the new Chicago route made New Zealand more accessible than ever to one of the country's most important tourism markets.
More than 222,000 holiday visitors a year contributed more than $850m to the economy.
The United States market was continuing to show strong interest in New Zealand, with a 11.3 per cent increase in holiday visitor arrivals for the year to February.
Chicago O'Hare Airport is the major hub of Air NZ's partner United Airlines, which connects to around 100 cities in the northeastern United States region and Canada such as New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal.
Wallace said his airline would station staff in United's Chicago corporate headquarters, strengthening a relationship that had been built over the past three years.
That would give the airline "disproportionate branding and reach" among United's 85,000 staff and about 100 million frequent fliers.
"In terms of us profiling our products and services to their frequent fliers that's obviously of huge importance to us."
As part of the deal United will extend its service between Auckland and its West Coast hub in San Francisco to year-round, introducing a three times weekly service.
Air New Zealand fares to Chicago on sale now are around $1900 return from throughout New Zealand but Wallace said there would likely be discounted fares as the launch got closer and during the low season for the route — the New Zealand winter.
"Like any incremental launch into a new market we will stimulate it. We're starting from a baseline of zero customers and we've got alot of seats to sell - you should expect us to be aggressive of that especially in the low season."
The 13,200km flight would be the longest on the Air New Zealand network and into prevailing winds southbound would take more than 16 hours.
The airline's Houston flight is just under 12,000km and takes about 14 and a half hours heading to New Zealand.
Although the Chicago flight is well within the range of the Boeing 787-9 for passengers and their bags either way there could be some constraints on cargo, depending on the conditions.
Wallace said Chicago was subject to some extreme weather in winter but O'Hare International Airport was geared up for it.
House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said the new route not only provided a great holiday destination but also alternative options for travellers heading to the East Coast of the United States or an easy stopover if going further afield to Europe.
"Kiwis are all about convenience when travelling and are very loyal to Air New Zealand as a national carrier and premium service airline."
Flight Centre says that this year it has seen a 35 per cent growth in travel to Chicago from New Zealand and it expected the new route to further stimulate growth in travel to the area.