Rugby World Cup fans have started to arrive in New Zealand, although natural disaster and a volcanic ash cloud have helped to drive visitor numbers lower during the past few months, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Arrivals cards are now asking visitors, "Are you here for the Rugby World Cup?" - to which 1200 people answered "yes" in July, although not all cards last month included the new question.

Cup organisers expected 95,000 visitors to New Zealand, with about 27,000 staying at least a month.

However, total short-term overseas visitor arrivals in July were down 3.7 per cent on last year at 176,084, with visitors for the year ended July down 0.5 per cent to 2.5 million.


Statistics New Zealand said arrivals had dropped in four of the past five months compared with the previous year, with the Christchurch earthquake in February and flight disruptions in June from a volcanic ash cloud contributing.

Australian visitor numbers in July were down 3.3 per cent on the previous year at 91,664 arrivals.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said a breakdown of Australian arrivals through July showed an improved second half of the month where numbers were only marginally down on last year.