Auckland flight puts Tassie back on map

·3-min read

On Thursday, NZ179 will put the international back into Hobart International Airport.

Air New Zealand's service from Auckland to Hobart, due to touchdown at 1pm, is Tasmania's first regular international flight in 23 years, and cause for great celebration from industry heavyweights.

"It's an historic milestone for Tassie," Tourism Industry Council chief executive Luke Martin told AAP.

"We've been wanting to see this happen and trying to make it happen since the last flights ended."

Hobart's first international flights took off in December 1980, serviced by two now-defunct airlines.

"TAA operated it on a Saturday. And Ansett operated it on a Wednesday," Tourism Tasmania board member Ian Rankine said.

"I remember people jumping on the flight and landing in Christchurch, touring around for a couple weeks and probably drinking the place dry of Steinlager and god knows what."

In those days, Hobart's Wrest Point Casino, the first in Australia, was a point of difference.

"The Christchurch flight was effectively was a gambling flight," Mr Martin said.

"It was promoted at the time as a bit of a gambling leg, they said 'fly to Hobart to do your gambling'."

Further trans-Tasman flights took off in the 1980s.

Qantas adding a Hobart to Auckland flight, with Air New Zealand reinstating the Christchurch service after some inactivity.

They all ended in 1998, when Air New Zealand's last remaining service to Christchurch came down from the departures board.

Since then, international arrivals have been restricted to the odd charter flight from northern destinations, or trips to Antarctica.

While tourism operators are delighting in the return of the direct flight, it's far from a panacea for an industry in strife.

Tasmania's tourism industry shrunk from 1.3 million visitors injecting $2.5 billion in 2019, to fewer than half a million people spending $1 billion in 2020.

The new route also has a humble footprint: Air New Zealand is running return flights on Thursdays and Sundays, bringing fewer than 1000 people a week.

Mr Martin said the trans-Tasman bubble would also mean some Tasmanians holidaying in New Zealand, and some Australians choosing Aotearoa over the Apple Isle.

"New Zealand's a competitor as well as a market," he said.

"At the moment Australians are coming as they see Tasmania as pretty safe and desirable. Now they have New Zealand as an option too.

"Hopefully a lot of Kiwis, because enjoy the same stuff that we offer - our outdoors, our mountain biking, our wine - will use the three-hour direct flight."

Mr Rankine said Kiwi visitors branched out in their Tasmanian travels.

"New Zealand is a significant market as people tend to stay longer here. They're a week, 10 days or fortnight traveller, not just a weekend," he said.

"We want to get dispersal into regions, the Derwent Valley, Strahan and the likes, and they do that."

From modest beginnings, Mr Martin hopes an international network - including Singapore, a return to Christchurch, and the USA - could flourish.

"The hope would be that it's a big success and over the next two to five years we can grow that to hopefully daily, and add a South Island route," he said.

"There's a long game for us is the US. It was our biggest international market and a really great market."