Private plane operator NZ Jet finished last summer on a high and beat its own internal forecasts, but for the past six months business has slowed down.
The Auckland-based firm has a March 31 financial year and co-owner Sofia Ambler said the slow third quarter was partly due to seasonality, but some parts of the domestic market were quiet with peaking interest rates, and the rising cost of living having an effect.
Election uncertainty got the wealthier clients nervous about spending and some momentum was lost after polling day as coalition agreements took time, but the firm — which operates Cessna Citation planes — is hopeful business will pick up.
“We have seen a big increase in inquiries and bookings in the last month. Over the last couple of months, inquiries have predominantly been coming in from Australia and the United States,” Ambler said.
“We have some great trips coming up including one family going Auckland-Hobart-Queenstown-Auckland.”
The company’s most popular destinations are Queenstown, Kerikeri, Napier and Taupō.
That was where the largest bulk of overseas guests went to visit world-class lodges and golf courses, and for them it was great value because the kiwi had fallen so much against the US dollar, she said.
New Zealand’s nature with hiking, golf and biking was popular in combination with food and wine.
Clients are flying from the North Island to the South Island or vice versa, sometimes bypassing Auckland and flying direct Kerikeri to Queenstown, with NZ Jet offering a “vineyard stop” in Blenheim with a personalised tour with wine tastings at lunch in the Marlborough region.
Most clients chose to fly private to avoid queues at the commercial airports with check-in, security and bag retrieval, and also to tailor trips and make extra stops along the way.
NZ Jet has just finished the avionics upgrade of its second Citation and will start its interior refurbishment to be ready for charter.
Last summer the firm offered round trips to Queenstown aboard the eight-seater jet for less than $20,000.
The rebuild of air capacity into New Zealand, especially from the US, was helping fuel business, said Ambler. She owns the business with husband John, a former Cathay Pacific captain who flew Boeing 747s.
“We still expect our 2024 financial year to only just beat 2023, and for 2025 to be a fantastic year. There is a lot of demand for New Zealand and the more accessible it gets with more international flights, the more visitors we will get.’'
There was increased demand for tailored and more-personalised travel and experiences.
“New Zealand has a great offering for the discerning traveller so we should see the high- value tourism segment continue to grow.’'
Sofia Ambler is also director and chief executive of The Luxury Network, which offers premium brands the opportunity to collaborate and work together on marketing and event initiatives that allow access to each other’s pre-qualified high-net-worth clients.
She has insight into the spending patterns of wealthy New Zealanders.
“Many high-net-worth New Zealanders are in relative terms maybe not immune to the current market sentiment and increased interest rates, but it is not necessarily having an impact on their daily life to the same degree.’'
Property developers have been affected more by interest rates than supermarket owners.
She said luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton were all posting brand growth in 2023 so just like overseas, there were plenty of high-net-worth Kiwis unaffected by the present economic climate.
They were still going for well-known quality items and brands in more-volatile and uncertain markets.
Business jet sales soared more than 30 per cent between early 2020 and 2023, but there are signs of the rate of growth levelling off, according to The High Flyers Report.