The high New Zealand dollar has been partly blamed for a sharp dip in international visitor spending to its lowest level since 2001.

Spending for 2012 was $5.42 billion, down 6 per on 2011 which was boosted by the Rugby World Cup.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's quarterly international visitor survey said there was a 2 per cent fall in visitor numbers last year.

"The (spending) drop also reflects global economic conditions and the strong New Zealand dollar," said the ministry's research and evaluation manager, Peter Ellis.


Trip expenditure by visitors from Britain had collapsed from $593 million in 2011 to $469 million last year.

Spending by Chinese visitors - now our second biggest tourist market - was up 42 per cent. Chinese now spend $651 million a year, according to the survey.

Spending had returned to the decline occurring before the Cup but the drop last year had been greater than forecast, said Mr Ellis.

The survey found spending peaked at just over $6 billion in 2009. Visitors spent $5.17 billion in 2001.

The survey is based on interviews of 5200 tourists departing from New Zealand airports.