China has surged ahead of the United States and is on the verge of becoming New Zealand's second-biggest tourist market, according to the latest International Visitor Survey.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's survey showed tourism spending was $5.6 billion for the year ending June 2012.

This was flat on the previous year's total spend of $5.5 billion, despite visitor numbers having risen 5 per cent to 2.6 million.

One standout in the survey was China, said the Ministry's tourism research and evaluation manager Peter Ellis.


"If it weren't for the Rugby World Cup in this period we would have seen a decrease in total visitor spend of well over $200 million.

"However, expenditure from Chinese visitors increased by 27 per cent to $522 million.

"China is now our third-largest tourist market and just shy of the $568 million spent by visitors from the UK."

China had already overtaken Germany and the United States and will soon become our second-largest visitor market, behind Australia, Ellis said.

The number of Australian visitors to New Zealand increased 6 per cent to 1.17 million but spending stayed flat at $1.6 billion.

Each tourist spent an average of 19.4 days in the country, down from 20.1 days in the year ended June 2011.

The average expenditure was $2300.

The International Visitor Survey is based on interviews with 5200 tourists per year departing from New Zealand airports.