COVID-19 keeps a lid on international travel

Kiwi travellers’ overseas spending in the September 2020 quarter fell almost $1.7 billion or 84 percent compared with the same time last year, as travel slowed to a trickle because of COVID-19, Stats NZ said today.

Spending by New Zealand travellers and students while overseas was $324 million in the September 2020 quarter, compared with nearly $2 billion this time last year. This includes spending on things like hotels, food, tuition fees, and rent (travel services imports), but excludes international airfares (which fall under transportation services).

“Historically, New Zealanders take more overseas trips at this time of the year, to escape the winter, but this year the numbers are much lower than usual,” international statistics senior manager Peter Dolan said.

“This coincided with New Zealanders spending more on nesting at home, buying things like furniture and hardware.”

See Card spending up as COVID-19 alert levels fall.


When compared with the September 2019 quarter, the countries where New Zealand travellers spent the most also changed considerably. While Australia and the United States were the top destinations in 2019, before COVID-19, in the September 2020 quarter travellers spent the most in China and India. This change was mainly driven by personal travellers.

The top countries for New Zealand business travellers and students studying abroad remained similar to last year, with the top destinations being Australia, United States, and China.

Spending by overseas visitors to New Zealand also down

Similarly, spending by overseas visitors and students within New Zealand (travel services exports) fell by half to $1.5 billion in the September 2020 quarter compared with the same quarter last year.

“In the first half of 2020, education travel exports held up, as many students had arrived before the March border closure and lockdown, but as we headed into semester two at the start of the September quarter, spending by students fell,” Mr Dolan said.

“The border remained closed to most people aside from New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, so it may be that students due to start their studies in the second half of the year were unable to get in.”

Spending by international students studying in New Zealand was $799 million this quarter, down from $1.1 billion in 2019.

It was estimated that in the September 2020 quarter there were around 112,000 visitors in New Zealand, with fewer visitor arrivals compared with the same time a year ago (141,000 visitors). See International travel: September 2020.

“Travel services is typically one of New Zealand’s top exports, along with dairy exports. Both export sectors have seen falls this quarter, though dairy was much less affected,” Mr Dolan said.

See Largest drop in terms of trade in a decade as dairy export prices sour for more on dairy exports.

Fall in crude oil imports

Goods imports fell $2.7 billion compared with the September 2019 quarter, driven by crude oil, down $813 million (75 percent) to $277 million with less crude imported from United Arab Emirates.

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