E-card from…New Zealand

Getting to New Zealand is a far more enjoyable task than trying to leave the damn place.

After being spoilt for years by the multitude of UK travel websites, sizing up the local offerings has been a frustrating and lengthy task for me – a Kiwi returnee.

But hey, it’s only travel. I tried telling this to my European partner, who was considering murder as a way of sorting the “clueless cow” at the travel agency. Thinking that booking a trip back to London would be over in five minutes, he soon discovered just how horribly wrong that assumption was.

After clicking on a reasonable deal on one site, he was promptly informed that all international travel queries would be replied to within 24 hours. And if you wanted to book? Sorry mate, come in and see us.

Yes, in New Zealand you must still practise the art of conversation. Whereas it is simple to book internal flights online (well, there are only two carriers), the international flights are less so – unless you are booking with Air New Zealand.

Like all countries, New Zealand has its pros and cons. Some of the biggest cons are the monopolies that run our economy, from telecoms to air travel. Unfortunately, the downside is that these two industries converge for what can be a less than pleasant experience.

Dial-up is still the norm in New Zealand, with only around 10% of households on broadband. (NZ Telecom likes it that way, but that’s another story). This means we have a rather under-developed e-commerce sector, and booking online still has a considerably long way to go.

When forking out for international, pricier fares, you want to be assured that your payment is secure – and has actually gone through. Sadly, the Internet is still yet to earn that trust from the majority of globe-trotting Kiwis.

What we desperately need is our own version of Ebookers or Expedia – even if just to save “clueless” travel agents from imminent death. With broadband uptake expected to increase over the next few years, this could be a very lucrative – and calming – business opportunity waiting to happen.

Online travel in New Zealand

Airnz.co.nz – website for New Zealand’s leading airline. Allows users to book flights, hotels, packages and insurance. Includes destination guides.

Qantas.co.nz – New Zealand portal within the Australian flag carrier’s site. Booking engine for domestic and outbound flights from New Zealand.

Houseoftravel.co.nz – a content-heavy travel provider with booking facility for flights. Packages are booked via a call centre.

Planettravel.co.nz – includes SmartFares booking facility for flights. Also contains content and price pages for hotels, car hire, cruises, pilgrimages and activities.

Travel.co.nz – online travel agent, under the Go Holidays brand, with a flight booking facility and video destination guides. Call centre needed for packages.

Travelonline.co.nz – claims to be New Zealand’s first internet travel agent. Uses Eflights for air fare booking and Octopus for hotels.

Chris Bourke returned to his native New Zealand in October 2005 to write for the Auckland-based National Business Review. He will be returning to the UK this month.

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