Prime Minister John Key says a million Chinese tourists will soon be visiting here annually.

Making his prediction at a ground-breaking ceremony for Auckland's new $200 million Park Hyatt, Key told more than 100 dignitaries in a waterfront marquee how he expected massive growth.

Quipping how he expected to be at the new five-star hotel regularly because he is often at events in hotels, Key said China was New Zealand's second biggest market for tourists after Australia.

Madam Chan Laiwa (l) with Prime Minister John Key at this morning's ceremony at the site of the new Hyatt Hotel. Photo / Anne Gibson
Madam Chan Laiwa (l) with Prime Minister John Key at this morning's ceremony at the site of the new Hyatt Hotel. Photo / Anne Gibson

About 371,000 Chinese tourists now visit New Zealand annually.

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"The question is 'how long will it take before there's one million?" he asked of annual Chinese visitor arrivals. "I would have thought within about three to four years there will be one million tourists from China alone," he said.

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Tourism New Zealand says China is New Zealand's second largest visitor market.

"Its growing middle-class has seen sustained growth in Chinese visitor arrivals to New Zealand over the last five years. Increased air capacity from the two direct carriers, China Southern Airlines and Air New Zealand - with new players Air China and China Eastern also establishing year-round services in 2015 - has helped this trend," Tourism NZ says.

Key was with a businesswoman said to be China's wealthiest to turn the first sod at the site of the new hotel.

Madam Chan Laiwa, founder of Chinese real estate business Fu Wah, visited the Halsey St site in the Wynyard Quarter/Viaduct Harbour area, opposite ASB North Wharf.
She accompanied Key into the marquee to the call of a kaikaranga.

See an animated flythrough from Panuku Development Auckland showing future plans for the Wynyard Quarter:

See this Google Map showing the site of the new hotel: