Booming tourism is set for even faster growth with a surge in the number of buyers from overseas coming to the New Zealand industry's trade event this week.
The Trenz event in Rotorua has attracted more than 350 tourism and trade buyers from 28 countries, numbers not seen for more than a decade.
Tourism now tops dairy as New Zealand's biggest foreign exchange earner, bringing in more than $11 billion from overseas visitors in the past year, according to industry calculations, and worth close to $30 billion annually when domestic travel is counted.
It is on track to reach a goal of being a $41 billion industry by 2025.
The conference not only attracts buyers who sell packages to future visitors but key industry figures and politicians who are grappling with the consequences of the pressure more than three million overseas tourists a year are putting on tourist facilities and local infrastructure.
The Tourism Industry Association manages Trenz and its chief executive, Chris Roberts, said interest in the three-day event was incredibly strong this year.
"The event is at capacity, with waiting lists for both exhibitors and buyers. That's great news for New Zealand, as a buoyant, high growth tourism industry drives economic wealth and supports thousands of jobs all over the country."
The event was enjoying big growth in buyer numbers out of Australia, China and the United States.
Air New Zealand's new Buenos Aires to Auckland service was also stimulating interest out of Argentina, with seven buyers heading to Trenz, up from three last year.
"New air links between Auckland and other growing Pacific Rim economies, such as Vietnam, have also generated buyer interest from those markets, again highlighting the importance of air connectivity to the tourism industry," said Roberts.
Westpac economist David Norman said New Zealand is benefiting from a global surge in travel, helped by lower air fares and a shift in patterns of consumption.
"We've got this shift towards consumption spending on things like travel services. People are buying less stuff that they fill their houses with and they are switching to online services whether it be streaming video or audio and to travel," he said.
This was apparent in China where the transition to consuming services such as travel was happening at breakneck speed. While Chinese may not be spending at the same rate on places to live or furniture, they are travelling in record numbers and are New Zealand's fastest growing market.
"That's good news for us in many ways, not so good for forestry exports but good news for tourism," said Norman.
New Zealand was benefiting from its reputation as a safe destination.
"You've got a lot of uncertainty in Europe with terror attacks and parts of Asia and anecdotally the interest in parts of Asia of flying to Europe dried up overnight."
In tourism centres there were big shortfalls in accommodation especially in three to five star hotel range.
"We're seeing massive shortfalls in accommodation capacity. There's a missed opportunity and we could be cashing in on that," said Norman.
The shortage in capacity was allowing strong growth in accommodation prices in the major centres pushing domestic tourists out of these markets, especially in the high season. However, regional tourism centres were benefiting from this.
Key themes in tourism
Too much of a good thing?
Research commissioned by Tourism New Zealand and the Tourism Industry Association found 30 per cent of 1000 surveyed were worried future growth may be too high. The Government is poised to spend more to help small towns cope with the influx of visitors.
Healthier airlines are pouring capacity to New Zealand. Hotel building hasn't kept pace but there are some new ones underway and a new government push to attract investment is about to be launched. New generation mega cruise ships are struggling to squeeze into our ports.
Keeping it pure
Tourism organisations are concerned about the state of our lakes and rivers and are pushing hard for stronger action to clean them up. There's also been a multi-pronged campaign to get Wicked Campers with offensive slogans off the road.
Australia and New Zealand's tourism industry groups are calling for a permanent transtasman visa that would allow international tourists to travel between both countries with a regional visa. This moves on and off the political agenda in both countries.