Tourism NZ and Air NZ will push new Houston destination in joint US marketing campaign

Tourism NZ chief executive Kevin Bowler said visitor arrivals from the US have been a stand-out performer in recent years.

Tourism New Zealand said a joint venture promotional campaign it's launching with Air New Zealand [NZX: AIR] in the US in September will have a strong focus on pushing the airline's new direct flight from Auckland to Houston, Texas, announced today.

Air New Zealand said it will fly refitted Boeing 777-200 aircraft between Auckland and Houston up to five times a week from December, allowing New Zealanders to fly directly into the southern heart of America as Houston is a major hub for the southern and eastern US.

At the release of the company's first-half results in February, chief executive Christopher Luxon said Kiwi travellers can expect competitive discounting on Air New Zealand flights in the next six months as it adds 12 percent capacity on its network. The airline is adding ten aircraft to its fleet this year as part of a $3 billion spend on new larger planes in the next six years.

The move to open a fifth port in North America along with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Hawaii, comes hard on the heels of the airline's decision to begin flying to Buenos Aires in Argentina in December.

Taking on two major new longhaul destinations at the same time is thought to be unprecedented for the airline. It follows Air New Zealand beginning direct services to Singapore with alliance partner Singapore Airlines in January and a recently announced additional seasonal service between Auckland and the Sunshine Coast.

Over the past year Air New Zealand has suspended services between Narita, Japan and Christchurch and services between Sydney and Rotorua.

Tourism NZ chief executive Kevin Bowler said visitor arrivals from the US have been a stand-out performer in recent years, driven in large part by it and Air New Zealand's work capitalising on Americans' love of The Hobbit movie trilogy.

He said residents of southern states travel during their summer to avoid the heat, which aligns with New Zealand's strategy to encourage more shoulder season travel here. US holiday arrivals alone for the year ending February 2015 were up 13.8 percent to 159,000 while holiday spend was up 32 per cent for the year ending December 2014.

For the past two years Tourism NZ and the airline have spent $20 million a year on joint marketing activity.

The Houston flight will be the longest on the airline's network at 13 hours 50 minutes and an extra 40 minutes to fly back to New Zealand due to prevailing head winds.

It will be a key hub rather than just a destination in its own right, with Air New Zealand saying it would be the fastest way for Kiwis to get to the East Coast and Midwest destinations such as New York and Chicago. It will code share with Star Alliance partner United Airlines from Houston to other key US destinations along with Mexico, central America and the Caribbean.