The Rugby World Cup boosted tourist spending last year by about a quarter of a billion dollars, according to a study by the Ministry of Economic Development.
The ministry said visitors for the Rugby World Cup spent about $390 million, which when taking account of displaced business or people who would have come here anyway could be a net gain of between $220 million to $340 million.
Peter Ellis, Ministry of Economic Development tourism research and evaluation manager, said the survey showed the impact of the tournament on tourism had been stronger than forecast.
Overall spending by international visitors last year was up by $168 million to $5.8 billion, excluding international airfares.
"If it weren't for the World Cup there would have been a decline in expenditure over those two years," Ellis said.
Some people had predicted there would be a dip in visitors after the tournament but this clearly had not been the case, he said.
"It would have been a pretty grim 2011 for tourism without the Rugby World Cup."
In total 133,000 tourists had ticked on their arrival cards that they came to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup and the survey found the average expenditure of adults in that group was about $3400, compared to the average for all visitors of $2400. Total spending by Australian visitors for the year grew by 2 per cent to $1.7 billion. China increased by 26 per cent to $457 million and overtook the United States for third place.
"Certainly if the current trends continue in one or two years they'll have overtaken the UK as well and be the second [biggest] market," Ellis said.
The average spend of Chinese visitors was $3448, which was greater than Australia, UK and US.
"It's not necessarily the same tourism operators that the traditional tourists go to so there's some issues to deal with there," Ellis said.
"They are very heavily focused up around Auckland and Rotorua [for] the normal Chinese itineraries, and a very high percentage of them are really only for three days."
According to Statistics New Zealand short-term visitor arrivals from China increased by 18.6 per cent last year to 145,524 people, while the UK and US dropped by 1.7 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar said the tournament had brought a lot of people to the country, although many operators said they did not see any benefit.
"Which translates into the traditional travel trade was disrupted in one way or other," Cossar said.
Overall it was a very solid result, he said. "But I'd also counter that by saying the way the markets are moving ... more towards Asia is not necessarily meaning all operators are seeing that incremental business the same way."
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said Rugby World Cup visitor arrivals played a huge role last year.
"The increase in spend for 2011 comes against the backdrop of global economic uncertainty, weakening exchange rates and a series of natural disasters," Bowler said.By Owen Hembry Email Owen