About 50 elderly American tourists had to bed down at a marae because their flight was cancelled and there were no beds available anywhere else in Auckland.

A massive tourist boom comes on top of a housing crisis in which 2600 homeless families have been placed in motels in the last three months of last year, and ahead of two major sporting events in the coming months, which are expected to attract an extra 38,000 visitors.

Te Puea Marae at Mangere Bridge, which famously opened its doors to homeless Kiwi families last year, said 53 United Airlines passengers slept marae-style on the floor last Wednesday.

They were unable to find a motel despite no major events on in the city that night.

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Marae treasurer Jenny Nuku said a US-based agency used by the airlines contacted the marae again at the weekend and yesterday looking for more urgent accommodation.

"It looks like it's going to be a daily occurrence," she said.

The agency had initially asked the marae to take in 100 passengers on Wednesday night, but only 53 arrived, in two busloads, at about 10pm that night.

"There were about four in their twenties, but the majority were 60 up," Nuku said.

"On arrival we gave them a brief whakatau, or pƍwhiri, just to welcome them in, then they went to have snacks and tea and coffee which we put on on a rolling basis through the night."

She said mattresses were laid down on the floor for them while they ate their snacks.

"They were quite comfortable with the communal sleeping.

"I think they were more than grateful they had somewhere to rest because the airport hasn't got much seating and these 50-plus couples didn't fancy sitting on the floor and finding a space near the elevators or whatever.

"It was actually a lovely cultural experience for them."

The group had to be back at the airport by 8am.

Nuku said the airline paid for the accommodation.

"Every year we have on average one or two enquiries but they were from people through word of mouth," she said.

"This is the first time we have been contacted from the airport."

Passengers through Auckland Airport leapt by almost 2 million last year to 18 million, and the number of international airlines flying to Auckland has jumped 50 per cent in 18 months.

The city's housing shortage has intensified since Te Puea opened its doors last winter.

Work and Income gave out 8860 emergency housing grants to 2600 families in the last three months of last year. It was revealed yesterday the Government spent $7.7 million on motel bills - almost four times the $2 million that had been budgeted for the entire year.

Prime Minister Bill English said there had been greater demand for emergency housing than expected, but it was unlikely to be a long-term problem.

He conceded that motels were "not the right place" for homeless people, because many of them had highly complex needs.

"So these are people who have been hiding from the system for some time.

"Now they're a bit more obvious and it does create opportunities for Government to get on to some longer-term solutions."

The homeless families are counted in motel statistics, which showed a jump of 67,000 bed nights across all Auckland accommodation types in October and November last year compared with a year earlier.

A United Airlines spokeswoman said its flight UA916 from Auckland to San Francisco on February 22 was cancelled due to "a mechanical (flight spoiler) issue" and apologised for "the inconvenience caused".

An airport spokeswoman said it was not involved but the contact was made through the airport's on-site marae, which can sleep 60 people but cannot provide catering.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) spokesman Steve Armitage said there were no major events in Auckland on February 22 to account for the bed shortage.

"It really is just the peak of our peak summer," he said.

Auckland expects to host 18,000 extra visitors for the World Masters Games in April and about 20,000 for a British Lions rugby tour in June and July.

Armitage said the Auckland Racing Club had agreed to open "a pop-up caravan park" at the Ellerslie Racecourse with 350 non-powered sites for self-contained campervans during the two events.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts said most of the Lions supporters had pre-booked packages, but others should book quickly.