Booming Chinese tourism to New Zealand is set to rocket ahead even faster, with many more than half a million visitors a year expected to arrive by 2020.
There could be more arrivals from China alone, than from the United States, Britain and Japan combined if their latest annual figures remained the same.
China is already the second-largest market for foreign visitors, behind Australia with 1.2m arrivals a year.
The number of flights between China and New Zealand is set to double under a new agreement signed between the two countries, says Transport Minister Simon Bridges.
It was estimated New Zealand would receive more than half a million Chinese passenger arrivals a year by 2020, he said. Auckland Airport has estimated a figure closer to 600,000.
To accommodate that a memorandum of understanding was signed at the International Air Services Negotiations conference in Indonesia last week that will allow airlines from New Zealand and China to fly a maximum of 42 services a week a country, up from the previous limit of 21 a week.
Bridges said this year 252,000 Chinese visitors arrived in New Zealand by air compared with 108,000 in 2009.
“With increased air services, forecasts indicate that 509,000 Chinese people will visit New Zealand by air each year by 2020.”
House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said that was a conservative estimate and there would be no problem finding airlines to fill the 42 flights a week limit. The growth from China was largely a result of its ballooning middle class and an increase in Chinese business people visiting New Zealand who then brought their families for a follow-up visit, Thomas said.
Auckland Airport spokesman Charles Spillane said the agreement was a great outcome for tourism industry and the economy by allowing more air services from one of New Zealand’s fastest growing tourism markets.
Chinese airlines would operate the previous maximum of 21 services a week this summer. China Southern would be operating twice a day from Guangzhou to Auckland, with plans to operate three charter services from Guangzhou to Christchurch for Chinese New Year in February.
China Eastern would fly daily to Auckland from Shanghai while Air New Zealand would continue to operate a daily service between Auckland and Shanghai.