Air New Zealand's new direct service from Auckland to Houston, which launched tonight with an inaugural flight at 6.30pm, will bring a significant boost in the numbers American tourists to these shores, says the national carrier's chief executive Christopher Luxon.
"There are 30 million Americans who have New Zealand on their 'bucket list' of places they want to visit - last year we had about 240,000 come and visit us. But the biggest reason for why they haven't chosen to come just yet for their next holiday is this perception of distance," Luxon said.
For visitors from the East Coast or Chicago, Houston would provide a more convenient hub than West Coast routes, he said.
Luxon said the airline had worked closely with Tourism New Zealand to focus its marketing in the US. "We've got to find ways to cut through against other brands that are in that big US marketplace where it's very expensive to do marketing."
At 13 hrs 45 min, the Houston route is the airline's longest regular service, shading the 13hr, 35 minutes Vancouver service.
Brand USA's Australasian director Oliver Philpot said the new service and increased competition across the Pacific would boost Kiwi holidaymakers.
"Our target for next year is to get 360,000 Kiwi visitors to the States, and this new route opens up the South as a destination for New Zealanders.
"This service brings an opportunity for growth and other Airlines might take notice of that."
In 2014, 260,000 Kiwis visited the States. In 2016, American Airlines will start a direct service from Los Angeles to Auckland and United will open up a new route from San Francisco.