By Fiona Rotherham
Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said New Zealand still has plenty of capacity to grow tourism from its record levels achieved last year.
Visitor arrivals to New Zealand rose 10 percent to a record 3.13 million last year, and tourism has become the country's number one export earner, overtaking dairy which is in the doldrums.
The sector has an aspirational goal of hitting $41 billion in total revenue by 2025, up from the $29.8 billion achieved in 2015.
Littlewood said while the goal is "quite a significant step up", it is achievable providing the industry works cohesively on growing the infrastructure to support that sort of rise in both volume and quality of international visitor who will stay longer and spend more.
Key opportunities identified in the 2025 tourism strategy are high value Chinese, international students, business events, cruise visits, emerging markets, and promoting Christchurch as a gateway and destination.
Auckland Airport's own aspiration is to become a southern Asia-Pacific hub and Littlewood said it has taken a further step on that path with a stronger than expected period of expansion in air services.
Six new airlines have commenced or announced services to Auckland in the past 12 months.
Achieving that desired hub status relies on a partnership with another international airline carrying a large population through Auckland onto South America or another destination, Littlewood said.
"Traditionally Auckland has been described as being at the bottom of the world but the world is round and Auckland is actually in the middle of a direct line between Tokyo and Buenos Aires."
"There are plenty of opportunities for this country but we will have to be receptive," Littlewood said.
"Ireland, which is also a small country with 4.5 million people, has 8.6 million visitors a year and I don't think the people of Ireland feel those visitors are taking over the country."
Cheap fuel prices, more efficient modern aircraft, and a lower kiwi dollar are making long-haul flights to New Zealand more attractive to those people who have always wanted to visit here but thought it too expensive, he said.