Brisbane is casting a $10 billion eye over New Zealand - and is building up their sporting events repertoire to attract more Kiwi visitors.
That sum is the amount New Zealanders spent on overseas trips in 2016, up from just over $9 billion the previous year, with 2.5 million of us enjoying overseas trips in 2016, up more than 7 per cent on 2015.
Although precise details are not available, many New Zealanders travel overseas to attend sporting events - and Brisbane is consciously ramping up its efforts to take a bigger slice of the sports tourism pie.
It's a significant pie; some estimates say the global sports tourism market is worth as much as US$600 billion a year, with the World Travel and Tourism Council further detailing that about 25 per cent of all tourism receipts are generated by sport and, of that, 76 per cent are trips planned around a sporting event.
Brisbane Marketing Tourism & Major Events General Manager, Anne-Maree Moon, says: "This is part of an overarching strategy, Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan, which focuses on building up the city's events calendar so we have at least one significant drawcard event a month; sport will be a big part of that."
Brisbane's sports calendar already boasts several world-class events, including the first semifinal of the Rugby League World Cup later this month and the final on December 2. The first Ashes test of a keenly anticipated series will also be held at Brisbane's famed Gabba ground later this month.
The Brisbane Global Rugby 10s will again be held in the city to kick off the rugby season while the Brisbane International tennis tournament has for years paraded talent like Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Milos Raonic, with January's tournament so far featuring the return of Garbine Muguruza, Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
"Kiwis are big sports followers and we noticed there was a spike in New Zealanders visiting Brisbane after the Rugby 10s last year," says Moon.
Queensland enjoyed a 10 per cent increase last year to create record levels of total international visitor numbers and Brisbane a 6 per cent rise, with 169,000 Kiwis visiting the city. Kiwis spent a record A$600m across Queensland last year.
In total, Australia was the destination for 44 per cent of all New Zealand overseas travel to the year ended August 2017, also an increase of 6 per cent year on year (11 per cent for travel to all destinations). It attracted nearly six times as many visitors as the next favourite destination - the US.
"So the focus on sports events and a drawcard event every month is designed to bring more New Zealanders here," says Moon, "by appealing to the things we know they like."
Sport is not the only string to Brisbane's tourism bow. The city is spending over $8 billion to upgrade and promote itself into tourism's big league - including a second runway at Brisbane Airport, the $3 billion Queens Wharf development (including a casino and five new hotels, retail stores, residential towers and bars and restaurants) while the proposed $2 billion Brisbane Live project is Australia's answer to Madison Square Garden in New York - a 17,000-seat arena for concerts and sports events.
Other new infrastructure projects include a new cruise ship facility and a billion-dollar Brisbane Metro development to ease CBD congestion. Other drawcard events include the Brisbane Racing Carnival, the World Science Festival Brisbane and the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards.
While it is too early to predict accurately Kiwis' outbound travel patterns for 2018, Moon says Brisbane's and Australia's proximity to its near neighbour will always count in its favour even if, for example, the currency dips as little, as happened during the recent election and wait for a new Government to be established.
"It's been proven over the years that the New Zealand-Australia travel relationship has survived even big reverses," says Moon. "Being a short-haul destination is definitely a plus; the two currencies have been close together for some time now, plus Brisbane is able to offer Kiwis what they often can't get at home - like warmth at the height of winter, for example."
In a recent travel feature in the New Zealand Herald, BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander said the prime driver of the recent New Zealand travel boom was decreased cost.
"If you go back 30 or 40 years ago, going on an overseas trip was a special thing. For some people it was once in a lifetime. These days, people are growing up with their parents taking them overseas - because of the decreasing cost it has found its way into a generally expected element of consumption on a frequent basis," he said.
Any softening of economic growth or property market would not necessarily curb travel: "In theory if people are worried about their jobs they'll travel less, if they're worried about their house price they'll travel less. History has shown us that analysts tend to over-estimate the impact on spending of house price changes."
Following rapid overseas holiday travel growth in the lead up to the global financial crisis, Alexander said there was a muted response when the slump hit hard in 2009, with only a 2.5 per cent drop that year.
Moon says that and increased competition among destinations had led to Brisbane reviewing its offering to New Zealanders and other travellers - "and we think we are heading in the right direction."