A group of 250 top Chinese travel agents, big company executives and China Southern Airlines bosses this morning begin a tour of New Zealand that their hosts say will help build on the fast-growing tourist market.

The airline used an Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft, in a one-off move, to bring the group and other scheduled passengers to Auckland last night.

Auckland Airport and other tourist authorities are hosting the group, which will split into three and visit attractions throughout the upper North Island.

The airport's chief executive, Adrian Littlewood, said the delegation's visit was a rare chance to showcase some of New Zealand's best tourist attractions.


"It's hard to underestimate the power of this visit," he said.

"We've got 250 travel agents here and it's exciting to think about the exponential effect that will have when they go back to China and talk about New Zealand."

China Southern Airlines held its first annual client conference last year on the Gold Coast.

"We were very lucky they picked us this year as they have huge choice," Littlewood said.

With all the major economies looking to get a slice of the growing Chinese tourism market, New Zealand simply cannot compete standing still, he said.

"We have got a great product but we can't risk going backwards."

We have gone out of our way to make this experience as easy as possible for them and Auckland has really come together."

Top executives of China Southern Airlines, including boss Tan Wan'geng, were greeted with a powhiri and hongi upon entering the terminal last night.

"Because of the vigorous support and sponsorship from Auckland, we are now in this beautiful city to hold our annual client conference," Tan said in a media conference.

The A380 is the world's largest commercial aircraft flying, with capacity to carry 525 passengers in a three-class configuration.

China Southern flies daily between Auckland and Guangzhou, China's third biggest city.