Air New Zealand is pitting itself against a direct competitor with flights to Seoul in South Korea, which could help revive the sagging inbound market and reduce fares on the route.

Korean Airlines flies non-stop up to seven times a week between Auckland and Seoul and from November Air New Zealand will take it on with flights as frequent as five times a week during the peak holiday period from late January to mid-February.

The route announcement - as part of a review of its entire network - fits into Air New Zealand's strategy of opening up more Pacific Rim destinations following the launch of services to Taipei last year. Those services will also be stepped up later this year.

It has however, suspended a winter seasonal service to Vietnam.


Korea is New Zealand's third largest international visitor market in Asia and although there has been steady growth during the past decade, the number of visitors slid 5.5 per cent during the year to January to 87,500, according to Tourism NZ figures. There has been some growth in the past four weeks, however.

Air New Zealand chief revenue officer Cam Wallace said South Korea was an important tourism growth opportunity for the airline and for the New Zealand tourism economy.

"We also want to encourage more Kiwi travellers to explore Seoul and South Korea. We're thrilled to be offering customers easy direct access to another vibrant Asian destination to add to their bucket list. The new service will also help connect the estimated 40,000 Koreans already living in New Zealand more conveniently with friends and family in their home country."

The new service will be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft with a flight time of around 12 hours northbound and just over 11 hours southbound.
Korean Airlines uses a Boeing 777-300 on the route.

Air New Zealand typically prefers to open routes where there is no direct competition and has flown to South Korea before.

It first operated services between Auckland and Seoul in the mid-1990s but suspended the service when the Asian financial crisis hit, travel patterns changed and there was stronger demand elsewhere on its network.

Auckland Airport has welcomed the move announced by Air New Zealand announced today.

"This is positive for New Zealanders as it will provide additional choice and connectivity to Seoul and beyond, and for tourism as it provides an important increase in seat capacity for the growing South Korean inbound visitor market," said Scott Tasker, the airport's general manager aeronautical commercial.


Korean tourists spent $277m in the last year. Tourism Export Council chief executive Judy Chen said having good direct air connectivity was key for inbound tourism growth.

"I am sure our tour operators will see rejuvenated demand and new opportunities as a result," she said.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said Korea was an important visitor market for New Zealand that perhaps doesn't always get the attention it deserves.

''Air New Zealand has obviously spotted an opportunity to further stimulate this market.''

South Korea is growing as a tourist destination.

Its tourist industry was hit in 2017 when tensions flared with its northern neighbour, but last year recovered by 15 per cent to more than 15 million visitors.

Flight Centre NZ says the country is growing in popularity for its clients.

Victoria Courtney, general manager product, said it surged by 20 per cent in the last year.

"We envisage the route to be particularly popular with our VFR (visiting friends and family) customers and business travellers looking to fly on our national carrier to the destination," she said.