New air links to Asia have helped international tourism numbers top one million arrivals and departures in January, the highest monthly number ever, Statistics New Zealand says.
The number of visitors from China was the highest recorded for any month at 23,300, and up 60 per cent on two years ago.
For the year to January, foreign visitor arrivals were up just 3 per cent, despite the boost from the Rugby World Cup.
Tourism Industry Association policy and research manager Simon Wallace said 2011 had been a challenging year for the industry with natural disasters here and in Japan, volcanic ash cloud disruptions and the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis.
"The fact that the numbers are stable proves that we have held our own," Wallace said.
The arrival last year of Asian carriers China Southern Airlines, Jetstar and AirAsia X, as well as additional Air New Zealand services to Beijing and Shanghai had driven the higher numbers from Asia, he said.
Malaysian-based AirAsia X's possible withdrawal from New Zealand was a concern. "It has been a real boon for the South Island particularly," Wallace said.
AirAsia X had also led to a significant increase in the number of Malaysian tourists flying direct into Christchurch who were also higher value independent travellers. Likewise, Jetstar's Singapore to Auckland service had increased visitors from the city state.
Some other high value markets were beginning to show tentative signs of recovery including the United States, he said.
And the number of international buyers planning to attend the tourism industry's annual international trade event was up on last year which was a sign of confidence, he said.
While possible changes to Air New Zealand's services to London as part of its long haul review were a concern, the country was well served by a number of other airlines from Britain, Wallace said.
ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said that in the wake of the Rugby World Cup visitor numbers had recovered to pre-February 2011 levels.
But the mix of tourists was changing, Tuffley said.
The weakness of the euro and the pound against the kiwi dollar would discourage holidaymakers from that part of the world to venture south, while "the growing affluence of Asia is rapidly becoming a boon, which New Zealand will need to learn how to best cater for," Tuffley said.
While the boost in Chinese visitors was influenced by the Chinese New Year falling in January rather than in February for the previous two years, their number in the last 12 months was nearly double that of two years ago, he said.
Chinese tourists now outstripped the combined totals from the slowing tourism markets of Japan and South Korea.
A total of 1,002,400 passengers passed through customs including 499,800 arrivals and 502,600 departures. Foreign visitors made up 266,800 arrivals, up less than 1 per cent on January last year.
There were 2.6 million foreign visitor arrivals for the year to January, up 3 per cent from 2011.
In January, the increase in visitors was mainly due to 7000 more arrivals visiting friends and relatives.
Those here for a holiday dropped 4200 and arrivals for conferences and conventions were down 800.
By country, there were more visitors from China and Australia, but fewer from Britain and Japan.
Source: Statistics NZ
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