Tourism New Zealand says that total arrivals for the year ending December 2012 have reaffirmed the underlying growth in visitors, with arrivals only slightly down on the 2011 year which was boosted by Rugby World Cup, and up 1.6 per cent on 2010.
Kevin Bowler, Chief Executive, says there has been a significant change in the market mix in the last year - with arrivals from Asia, in particular China, continuing to increase, while long-haul markets have remained challenging.
"Undoubtedly the biggest story of the year was the dramatic growth from China which moved passed the USA and UK to become our second largest source of visitors."
"The current economic situation in Europe, and New Zealand's high exchange rate, has understandably impacted on the number of long-haul arrivals.
"However, the western markets remain valuable, and a target for Tourism New Zealand, as their visitors tend to stay longer. And some of the markets have held up well - in particular Germany which was up 12.4 per cent in December, and ended the full year 0.1 per cent ahead of 2011.
"We anticipate that the growing awareness of New Zealand as the result of the release of the first Hobbit movie and our focused marketing efforts will increase preference for travel to New Zealand across all markets - including long-haul markets such as the USA and the stronger parts of Europe."
Arrivals from Asia increased, with China up 35.4 per cent for the year and Japan showing good signs of recovery with an increase of 4.5 per cent for the year.
Kevin Bowler says the number of Chinese visitors will continue to grow, but it is not just a numbers game.
"Tourism New Zealand is leading a programme we're calling Premier Kiwi Partnership (PKP) in China to increase the availability of higher quality mono-New Zealand holidays through the Chinese travel trade. In time, this will result in more people choosing to visit just New Zealand, to stay for longer, do more, and ultimately, have a better experience to share with others on their return.
"Through PKP, we aim to change the nature of holidays taken by Chinese visitors and the contribution they make to the New Zealand economy. The first visitors on these new PKP itineraries will be arriving in the next few weeks for Chinese New Year."