The Rugby World Cup helped take international visitor numbers to record levels last year - but they watched their pennies while they were here.
Tourism Industry Association New Zealand figures released today showed 2.601 million people visited last year, up 3 per cent on the previous year and the first time visitor numbers have exceeded 2.6 million.
Spending was also up 3 per cent on 2010, to $5.763 billion, but well below the peaks of $6.1 billion in 2007 and 2009.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said the results were good given the tough market and strong competition for tourists and their money.
"I think it's probably some of the toughest trading environments we've ever encountered in New Zealand tourism," Mr Cossar told APNZ.
"That's just the reality of it. It's just a very tough market place and it's every competitive."
The results showed resilience in the New Zealand tourism market but "I don't think every part of the industry would necessarily say they're enjoying the best of times".
Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2011 pumped about $390 million into the economy, and international visitors from Australia and Britain both increased during the tournament.
Overall, the number of Australians visiting friends and family in New Zealand increased 8.6 per cent on 2010, while the number specifically here for a holiday dropped 1 per cent.
Increased air capacity helped Chinese visitor arrivals reach hit the 145,000 mark, up 18.6 per cent on 2010, and expenditure from this market was a record $457m, making it New Zealand's third largest spending visitor market.
"Rugby World Cup aside, 2011 was a challenging year for many tourism operators. However, the growth in visitor arrivals and visitor expenditure allows for some guarded optimism for the year ahead," Mr Cossar said.
"It's important to build on that growth, and as an industry, continue to look for new ways to increase the number of higher-spending holidaymakers travelling to New Zealand."
A Ministry of Economic Development (MOED) survey found that 133,000 people came to New Zealand in 2011 as a result of the Rugby World Cup.
On average they spent $3400 while they were here, about $1000 more than the average adult visitor.
However, the margin of error for this figure was 20 per cent.
"We're confident between 60 and 75 per cent of the rugby visitors' expenditure can be regarded as a net increase in tourism spending - that is, an increase over what would have been spent by visitors if there had been no world cup in New Zealand," said MOED tourism research and evaluation manager Peter Ellis.