Key Points:

A tour by India's cricket team next March is expected to put the spotlight on New Zealand as a tourism destination but Indian travel industry leaders warn it won't translate into greater numbers unless more seats on flights or a direct service is made available.

Just over 23,000 Indian tourists visited New Zealand in the last year - making them New Zealand's 12th-largest market.

The numbers have increased from 17,000 a year five years ago when Tourism New Zealand opened an office in Mumbai.

Tourism New Zealand regional manager India and Southeast Asia, Kiran Nambiar, said the cricket tour had the potential to place New Zealand on India's list of travel destinations for the next five years.

But Sudhir Patil, a director with Mumbai-based Kmice, which specialises in group tours, said it was difficult to grow numbers because of the lack of capacity on flights from India on indirect routes and no direct service between the two countries.

"To promote more from New Zealand now I think the airlines need to support us," he said at a tourism trade fair in Shanghai last week.

Heena Munshaw, managing director of Beacon Holidays, a Mumbai-based specialist in luxury New Zealand tourism, said New Zealand needed to take Indian visitors more seriously.

"Kiwis need to take us more seriously, not just as a filler for the shoulder season".

At present, 40 per cent of Indian visitors come via Singapore and a further 30 per cent come via Australia.

But there are big headaches in using these routes.

Patil said getting to Singapore was not a problem but getting a flight from there to New Zealand was an issue. Airlines preferred to sell seats to the European market because they can earn much more by charging in pounds or Euros.

In travelling through Australia, Indians also faced having to get a transiting visa. Munshaw said a direct service would boost the number of Indians coming as well as their average spend as they would be able stay longer in New Zealand rather than taking days to get there.

But Air New Zealand has said it has no plans in the short term to launch direct flights as it does not have enough planes to extend the route that far and existing aeroplanes would struggle to make the distance in one hop.

The airline's regional general manager North Asia Charles Phelps-Penry said India was among the routes it would consider in the future but that was unlikely to occur for at least another four or five years.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which the airline has on order, would be capable of reaching some cities in India directly from Auckland.

* Tamsyn Parker is in Shanghai courtesy of Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand.