Overseas visitor numbers growing; Queenstown Airport almost back to pre-Covid volumes

Nationally, overseas visitor volumes are 58 per cent of the level recorded in September 2019. Photo / 123rf

The number of overseas visitors to New Zealand continues to grow but the recovery after years of closed borders has not been shared equally, with Queenstown bouncing back faster than other main regions, new data shows.

The number of people coming to New Zealand to see friends and relatives is recovering the fastest while other travel categories remain around half of their pre-Covid levels.

The Herald has compared the latest September 2022 data on international visitor arrivals to New Zealand from Stats NZ to the most recent pre-pandemic September month which was 2019.

Although monthly international visitor volumes have increased steadily since the border was partially opened in March, and significantly compared with the same time last year, they remain well down on pre-Covid levels.

The Stats NZ data showed overseas visitor numbers in September 2022 were 58 per cent of the volumes recorded in September 2019.

In September 2022, 151,300 overseas visitor arrivals were recorded compared with 261,800 in the same month in 2019.

By country of residence, the volume of visitors from Australia, Fiji and Singapore have returned to around three-quarters of what they were in September 2019.

Overseas visitor arrivals are people who live overseas who are travelling to New Zealand for a stay of less than 12 months. The figures include New Zealand citizens and non-New Zealand citizens.

Australian visitors have always outnumbered travellers from any other country. Following the pandemic Australians make up an even larger proportion of travellers to New Zealand. In September, two out of three international visitors came from across the Tasman—a total of 104,192 people and 79 per cent of the pre-Covid level.

In September 2022, 1889 people from Fiji visited New Zealand (81 per cent of the pre-Covid level) and 2872 people from Singapore visited (74 per cent of the pre-Covid level).

Visitor numbers from other countries remained at smaller proportions of their pre-Covid levels including China (7 per cent), South Korea (23 per cent) and Japan (25 per cent).

Most people who visited New Zealand from overseas in September did so for a holiday however these 63,040 people made up only half of the volume of holidaymakers recorded in September 2019.

The number of people travelling to visit friends and family (53,948) reached 79 per cent of pre-Covid levels while the business and education cohorts remained lower at 45 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively.

Communications manager at Tourism Industry Aotearoa Ann-Marie Johnson said it was expected that visitors coming here to see friends and family would lead the return of demand.

These travellers would often stay in commercial accommodation, such as hotels and Airbnbs, rather than exclusively with family, she said

“They do take the opportunity to go out and do some New Zealand experiences while they’re here.

“Generally, I think they would probably spend less than your classic holiday traveller but they’re still a very valuable market for us.”

Overseas visitors through Queenstown Airport appear to have recovered for September, with the almost 30,000 internationals who flew into the airport making up 99 per cent of the volumes recorded in September 2019.

Destination Queenstown chief executive Mat Woods said Queenstown had “exceptional” snow this year and the direct flights to the town from Australia, made the trip across the Tasman easy.

“I think it’s fair to say we might have benefited a little bit from the North Island’s lack of snow, which is unfortunate for Mt Ruapehu.”

Events such as Snow Machine, Winter Pride and Winter Games would have attracted people domestically and internationally.

“For the winter months, we were slightly below 2019 for the months of July through to September, but the visitors that did come stayed 15 per cent longer and spent 27 per cent more [than 2019],” he said.

“We’re not after that volume piece but we want people to stay longer and spend more.”

Meanwhile, volumes were much lower than pre-Covid levels at other key airports. Although Auckland Airport had by far the most overseas visitors in September (92,421), this was only half of what the airport had in September 2019.

It was a similar picture for Christchurch Airport at 49.1 per cent of pre-Covid levels while Wellington Airport was higher at 67.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, monthly data on international card expenditure showed spending by international visitors in Otago had increased significantly in the months prior to September, corresponding with the skiing season.

At $52.7 million in September 2022, international visitor spending via electronic cards was higher than the most recently pre-Covid September in 2019.

The data is produced by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and comes from Tourism Electronic Card Transactions (TECTs).

It showed spend in other main regions is also resembling pre-Covid levels. Spending in Auckland has increased steadily since February to $61.7m in September 2022, nearing $66.6m recorded in the September before Covid was recorded in New Zealand.

Electronic card spending by international visitors in September 2022 in Canterbury was $21.9m (versus $23.1m in September 2019), Wellington was $14.8m (versus $14.2m) and Waikato was $10.7m (versus $10.9m).

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