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Card spending on travel halves in March – Media release

9 April 2020

Card spending on travel agency and tour arrangement services had the biggest fall on record in March 2020, Stats NZ said today.

For the first time, Stats NZ is publishing lower-level card spending data to help New Zealanders assess the impact of COVID-19.

 “The travel and tour arrangement industry falls into the non-retail category of our standard electronic card spending release,” retail statistics manager Sue Chapman said.

“We are releasing some of this lower-level data to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on consumer spending.”

All figures are seasonally adjusted unless otherwise stated.

Card spending on travel fell 53 percent ($66 million) in March 2020, in the wake of international and domestic travel restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. This fall is three times bigger than the previous largest drop in January 2008 when spending fell 12 percent ($21 million).

New Zealand closed its borders to foreign visitors at 11:59pm on 19 March. At midnight on 25 March the country entered COVID-19 alert level 4, which instructed people to stay at home.

Detailed card spending (adjusted for seasonal effects)

Hospitality – card spending in March 2020:

  • food and beverage services (which includes cafes, restaurants, takeaway food services, and bars) fell 27 percent ($238 million) after a 2 percent ($17 million) increase in February 2020. The closure of all cafes, restaurants, and takeaway outlets took food and beverage spending back to levels seen in 2015.
  • accommodation (which includes hotels, motels, and similar units), fell 32 percent ($69 million), following a 0.2 percent ($0.5 million) increase in February 2020.

Consumables – card spending in March 2020:

  • supermarket and grocery stores increased 18 percent ($315 million)
  • liquor increased 15 percent ($25 million)
  • specialised food retailing increased 0.5 percent ($1.1 million).

Durables – card spending in March 2020:

  • department stores fell 6.9 percent ($23 million)
  • recreational goods fell 6.9 percent ($10 million)
  • pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and toiletry goods, stationery goods, and other store-based retailing fell 1.1 percent ($3.8 million)
  • furniture, electrical, and hardware fell 0.2 percent ($1 million).

Other non-retail card spending in March 2020:

  • medical and other care services (which includes GPs, specialists, physiotherapy, optometry, ambulances, and dental care) fell 19 percent ($46 million)
  • postal and courier pick-up and delivery services fell 11 percent ($7.4 million).

Note that each of these lower-level series exhibit their own seasonality and have been seasonally adjusted individually. This means that the sum of the lower-level series movements will give slightly different results to the movements of the aggregate series in the standard electronic card transactions release.

Stats NZ will be releasing this detailed electronic card transaction data for six months (covering the period March–August 2020) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Download the CSV file below to see data for the industries listed in the table.

(See attached file:

Key travel restrictions and COVID-19 Alert system timeline

2 February 2020: NZ Government places entry restrictions into New Zealand on all foreign nationals travelling from or transiting through mainland China.

19 March 2020: New Zealand’s borders closed to almost all travellers, except for returning New Zealanders.

23 March 2020: New Zealand enters COVID-19 alert level 3 (Restrict)

25 March 2020: New Zealand enters COVID-19 alert level 4 (Eliminate)