New Zealanders are being encouraged to invite their international friends and family to visit in a new television advertising campaign aimed at boosting the recession-hit tourism industry.

The "Great Kiwi Invite", launched yesterday by Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key, will run for four weeks starting tomorrow night with the help of state-owned TVNZ.

The commercial features two cartoon-style kiwi birds encouraging New Zealanders to go to a website and send a personalised email inviting friends and family to visit.

When the recipient accepts the email invitation they will go into a draw to win one of 15 trips for two to fly to New Zealand with Air New Zealand.

Key said many New Zealanders had friends and family overseas. "It's about having 4.4 million ambassadors."

While the recession was having an impact on the $20 billion tourism sector, he said the recent campaign into Australia showed there were still some markets which could be tapped.

But the amounts spent on the two campaigns are poles apart. The Government gave Tourism New Zealand $2.5 million for the two-week Australian campaign, matched by $2.5 million in marketing from Air New Zealand. This campaign is costing just $350,000.

Key said he did not believe it was a downmarket campaign. "It's something we are hoping will just jog the enthusiasm of people to come."

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton said the campaign was designed to target a market that was still working for New Zealand.

In the year to June 756,089 people out of 2.4 million cited visiting friends and family as the main reason for coming to New Zealand and that was up 3.6 per cent on last year.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar described the campaign as innovative and said his experience at Positively Wellington had shown the friends and family market could be valuable.

Hotel Council chairwoman Jennie Langley said that while hotel owners might not benefit as much as other parts of the industry, it was important to focus on just getting people to New Zealand.