It's not Waitomo Caves or Hobbiton that are the Waikato's biggest attractions - it's Wintec and Waikato University that are keeping visitors in the region.

Hamilton's tertiary sector is boosting the region's international visitor stay to an average of six nights, the second-highest behind Auckland.

Tourist mecca Queenstown's average international stay is four nights, according to the International Visitor Survey.

Hamilton and Waikato Tourism director Graeme Osborne said people stayed in Waikato for longer periods largely because of its international export market, which was an under-valued but important source of talent for New Zealand.


The international education sector also contributed about $140 million to the Waikato economy each year.

Waikato University and Wintec attracted a combined 2475 international students last year, almost half of them from China.

This year the university has 959 students enrolled and Wintec has 591 but the numbers are expected to rise after the semester two intake.

International students also attend Waikato secondary schools and private institutes.

Hamilton and Waikato Tourism chief executive officer Kiri Goulter said the university and polytech brought international students toWaikato.

Auckland attracted the largest number of international students followed by Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin and then Waikato, according to the Ministry of Education.

Chinese student Eric Qian, 24, moved to Waikato at the start of last year to complete a Bachelor of Business Studies at Wintec and said New Zealand was the ideal choice for him after finishing his secondary education in Melbourne.

Mr Qian is doing a three-year degree in two years and is planning to complete his masters in Britain or the United States.

"Hamilton is a lovely city. It's a little bit small but the people are nice and it's nice and quiet. I love the weather, it's sunny every day."

Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers said international students boosted the economy and also provided less tangible benefits such as cultural diversity, experience and knowledge.

Waikato University's vice-chancellor of international association, Professor Ed Weymes, said Waikato was often chosen by parents for its high level of pastoral care and attractive campus. International students were about 17 per cent of its total roll.