Big growth in the number of Chinese visitors to New Zealand helped boost overall tourist spending by half a billion dollars last year, latest figures show.

Domestic and international tourists spent a combined $23.9 billion in the year ended March 2013, which was $541 million, or 2.3 per cent, more than the previous year.

Statistics New Zealand's report showed spending by international tourists rose by 2.2 per cent ($213 million) in the year, after a 1.4 per cent lift in the previous year.

Spokesman Peter Gardiner said the increase in spending was partly tied to strong growth in Chinese visitors.


"This reflects both the increasing value of the Chinese market and the ongoing change in the composition of our traditional visitor markets," he said.

China is now New Zealand's second-biggest source of tourists, behind Australia with almost 1.2 million annually.

Nearly 50,000 more people from China came to New Zealand during the year to March, a 31.2 per cent jump.

Total Chinese visitor arrivals hit 210,240 - the first time they have exceeded 200,000. That growth has continued throughout the year, rising to 236,300 in the year ended September.

A number of key events helped drive tourism activity during the year, including the world premiere of Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies.

Tourism generated a direct contribution to GDP of $7.3 billion, or 3.7 per cent of GDP, and tourists generated $1.3 billion in GST revenue.

The industry directly employed 110,800 full-time workers, which was 5.7 per cent of New Zealand's total workforce.

The strongest growth in tourism expenditure was in education services, which increased 3.8 per cent to $689 million.


Today's report provides the most recent snapshot of tourism spending but Statistics New Zealand has released more recent data for visitor arrivals.

The latest International Travel and Migration report showed visitor arrivals last month were the second-highest ever for a September month.

A total of 191,100 visitors landed in September, compared to 179,100 a year ago.

The 21,200 visitors from China was well up from 14,000 last September.

Visitor arrivals in the year to September were 2.670 million, up 3 per cent on the previous year.