Argentina seeks to boost air connections to China through NZ
By Pattrick Smellie
Oct. 13 (BusinessDesk) - Argentina's new, reformist government is seeking to accelerate the growth of Asian tourism to South America via New Zealand and Australia in what its visiting deputy tourism minister, Ramiro Alem, describes as a "look south" strategy.
In New Zealand this week for talks with Air New Zealand, Auckland International Airport, government officials and tourism bodies, Alem told BusinessDesk the fledgling government of Mauricio Macri is reaching out on numerous fronts to re-engage with global markets after a prolonged period of insularity caused by an inward-looking, weak and highly protected domestic economy of the previous Peronist government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
"We grow up looking North," he said, referring to the inevitable magnet of the United States for Latin America and the region's heritage of colonisation by Europe.
"The opportunity to build the south-to-south connections is the central idea of what we have been discussing. Right now, Argentina is looking for the right partners to grow."
While the strategy is in its infancy, Alem says Argentina sees opportunities for Australasia and South America to create a new focus for the flood of Asian tourists, especially from China, who have also tended to look most to North America and Europe for holiday options.
Key to the plan is air connectivity, with Air New Zealand's current three direct flights a week to Buenos Aires from Auckland a basic building block. The service rises to four and five services per week during shoulder and peak seasons, and Alem hopes to see the route grow to a year-round daily service over time.
A combination of tourism, international education and sporting links - increasingly rugby - are supporting the route, which Air New Zealand said had "performed well since its launch almost two years ago".
"Overall visitor arrivals to New Zealand from Argentina have more than tripled over this period," an airline spokeswoman said. "In response to strong demand, we will operate 15 percent more capacity between Auckland and Buenos Aires in FY18 than in FY17."
Said Alem: "The strategic thinking is that Auckland to Buenos Aires is one of the most seasonal routes for Air New Zealand, so the opportunity is Chinese people flying in the low season. There is an opportunity to work together to build that Asian traffic.
Job creation is the central focus for the Argentine government.
"Today, Argentina has three out of 10 living below the poverty line, 28 percent of the population. We have no time to lose," said Alem.
While business travel was not a specific focus of the south-to-south connection idea, Alem stressed that the 20 month-old Macri government has a huge infrastructure programme with some US$10 billion of projects on the books, many of which would attract international partners.