West Coast tourism operators feel they have "turned a corner" after the downturn in visitor numbers after the Canterbury earthquakes.
In the year to March 30, the West Coast hosted an extra 30,400 tourists compared to the previous year, Tourism West Coast chairman Richard Benton told the board's annual meeting in Greymouth on Tuesday.
That ranked the West Coast as the fifth most popular region in New Zealand for international holiday guest nights.
"We are just starting to see now the corner being turned," Benton said. West Coast tourism operators will receive an even bigger boost if they capitalise on the 3 million extra passengers Christchurch Airport hopes to bring in annually by 2025.
Christchurch International Airport chief executive Malcolm Jones told the meeting that the airport had about 300,000 fewer international passengers annually compared to the 2010 figure. But the company had big ambitions to boost numbers over the coming decade.
Jones said the airport was aiming for 8.5 million passengers a year by 2025, which he predicted would bring an extra $1 billion and 10,000 jobs to the South Island.
Of those international passengers, about 200,000 Australian tourists were "missing" from the South Island because they were not flying into Christchurch. About 70 per cent of those tourists would have visited other South Island destinations, he said.
Now tourists were being funnelled into Queenstown via Auckland, and South Island tourism operators would have to band together to recapture that market.
Jones said a key part of reviving South Island tourism would be "bringing the South Island back to life in Australia".
Tourism West Coast chief executive Jim Little said that last year tourism contributed $284m to the West Coast's GDP and provided 2370 fulltime jobs.
In October 2013, travel guide publisher Lonely Planet included the West Coast in its top 10 regions of the world.
- The Press