After more than two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and border closures, the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai volcano eruption and tsunami, this trip was going to be special.
He was taking a big group of 15, including his mother, son, his two sisters and their children.
“It’s Christmas, and it’s a time for family – we’re all just looking forward to being back home together,” he said.
“Mum is really looking forward to seeing her sister who is old now, so we just want to spend as much time with her as we can.
Lua, who lives in Auckland, was in Tonga after the island nation’s borders reopened in August, but that trip was for business, and short.
“After the eruption earlier this year, the tsunami and Covid outbreak, going back is just extra special because everyone’s just been through a lot.”
He’ll be leaving behind his children and wife, a decision they were forced to make because airfares were too expensive.
Flight Centre New Zealand general manager Heidi Walker said travel over Christmas has always been expensive, globally.
They were seeing a 5% increase on time people spent in the Pacific, and that was mainly due to the travel being more expensive.
“The expectation is that you will always pay twice than any other time of the year,” Walker said.
“An initial price on a good day is higher than 2019, but the base price is more expensive which is why travel during Christmas is always twice the cost on a non-Christmas period.”
The Seniwatui family haven’t been back home to Fiji for five years. They tried to go in 2020, but border closures put a dent in their plans.
Rosa Seniwatui said they were looking forward to seeing family and having a break from Auckland’s fast life.
“I’m looking forward to going to the market and enjoying the fresh produce. We’re planning on visiting family and friends, but also have a holiday and go on some of the cruises.”
Fiji, Tonga and Samoa have been the most popular destinations in the Pacific this summer.
Walker said traditionally, the Pacific has always been popular with Kiwis but after Covid, people wanted to travel but still stay close to home.
“The foreign exchange is good, it’s warm and beautiful, and it’s closer to home which means less travel time to get to a sunny holiday.
“It has something for everyone, families, solo trips, honeymooners. And even when it rains, it’s warm rain in a beautiful tropical environment.”
The Pacific was heavily impacted by the pandemic with border closures taking a huge chunk off economies that relied heavily on tourism.
For countries like Cook Islands, Palau, Niue and Fiji, tourism was the single largest contributor to GDP and employment.
Before the pandemic, a little less than 2.3 million international travellers visited the region, most from two key markets Australia (30%) and New Zealand (20%).