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29 Mar 2018 • 3 Comments
Derek Fry, WREDA's Interim Chief Executive says that while there could be delays in the Wellington Airport runway extension resource consent process, it’s important for the region that the project goes ahead.
Extend Wellington Airport’s runway and it could lead to an extra $1 billion being spent by visitors from Asia in the Wellington region over 10 years.
That sounds like a big number but the projection is based on current visitor statistics. International visitors spend $789 million a year in Wellington, with Asian tourists accounting for 18 per cent ($143m). Nationally, Asian tourists account for 31 per cent of the international visitor spend. If Wellington could match the national figure, an extra $134 million would be pumped into the Wellington regional economy annually by Asian visitors.
Add in visitors from other continents who could travel more directly to Wellington, and the regional economy would be boosted by many more millions of dollars each year.
For this to become a reality, the airport must be truly international, capable of accommodating larger aircraft providing direct air connections with Asia, and enabling one-stop flights to anywhere in the world.
There’s no denying the runway extension has split public opinion. Supporters can’t understand why it’s taking so long to get on with it while people on the other side of the fence cannot see why it should be done at all.
WREDA is tasked with growing the Wellington regional economy and has based its decision to back the runway extension on facts, not least of which is the truth that international tourism is New Zealand’s biggest export earner at around $14.5 billion every year. Each international visitor spends on average of $3,180 per visit to New Zealand.
Wellington is not getting its fair tourism share, attracting fewer international visitors than the tourism hotspots of Auckland, Queenstown and Canterbury. The variance is not about Wellington’s attractiveness as a destination which boasts loads of fantastic eateries, craft beer bars, Weta Workshop tours, Te Papa, and a walkable city that is easy to enjoy. With 99 per cent of tourists arriving by air, a lot of that is down to a lack of international flights directly servicing Wellington.
An extended runway will attract valuable new air services and bring new visitors to Wellington. A good example of this is the Singapore Airlines service which, in its first year of operation, boosted international arrivals from Asia by 17 per cent, and from Singapore by 75 per cent.
But a longer runway is not just about more tourism for Wellington. It’ll better connect Wellingtonians and local businesses to the world. The region has the population to attract non-stop flights servicing Asia. There are already enough passengers to fill four daily long-haul flights to and from Wellington Airport flying via Auckland and other neighbouring hubs.
This number has grown by 9.5 per cent every year over the past four years. By the time the extension is built the market will be even larger. As a comparison, Christchurch – with effectively the same urban population, the same connectivity to neighbouring regions and comparable access to tourism product – supports up to 20 weekly return long-haul services. This is one reason why Canterbury has three times the Asian visitor spend than Wellington.
An extended runway would also benefit Wellington’s competitiveness as a business location. Currently, the region’s exporters are 10 hours further from Asia than their Auckland-based competitors. Most international exports requiring air freight from the Wellington region to Asia and beyond must first freight goods by truck to Auckland, adding time to customer delivery and eroding the value of perishable products.
Tourism and trade are cornerstones to Wellington’s future economic growth, providing urgency to why we can’t sit back and accept our current international air connection limitations. New infrastructure is required for the region to increase its competitiveness and while the airport runway project is only one part of the infrastructure puzzle, in an era of rapid globalisation, it’s a critical one.