Strong tourist arrivals, particularly from China, are helping to bolster New Zealand's economy against a slump in dairy prices.

But Tourism New Zealand boss Kevin Bowler says it would be a good thing if growth in Chinese visitor numbers eased off.

More than 320,000 visitors arrived from China in the year to August, a 30.5 per cent increase on the same period a year earlier, according to Statistics NZ.

That compares with a 7.8 per cent rise in total visitors to just over three million.


Bowler told the Sydney Morning Herald that Chinese visitor numbers were "growing faster than we really want".

"It is probably more sustainable and more manageable to be growing at a rate half of what we are currently growing," he said.

Today, he told the Herald that New Zealand's tourism infrastructure was struggling to keep up with that growth.

"[Chinese arrivals] are currently growing at over 30 per cent per annum and you will remember that last summer we had some really difficult challenges accommodating all of the visitors over the peak period," he said.

"If we keep growing at that rate we're going to have some real capacity problems, particularly over the peak season ... hotels just aren't being built fast enough."

Bowler said Tourism New Zealand was responding to the challenge by marketing "shoulder season" - autumn and spring - travel in the Chinese market.

"It's possibly less about slowing growth down and more about redistributing visitors into shoulder seasons and also trying to focus on longer-staying visitors who are going to spread out a lot more around the country," he said. "The current pattern is concentrating a lot of visitors into Auckland, Rotorua and Queenstown."

He said Chinese visitors' median length of stay had risen from around five-and-a-half days to six days over the past 12 months.


"We are seeing an improvement in itineraries and longer lengths of stay but a large proportion are still visiting Australia, coming to New Zealand and then staying for only say two or three nights."

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon told the Sydney Morning Herald that the national carrier was also promoting shoulder season travel.

"What we don't want over the next five to 10 years is to have a great economic win but a social and an environmental negative," he said. "We have this massive peak over the summer period - that creates more pressure in the system. We want to distil that out over the full-year."

Earlier this month Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said interest in New Zealand from Chinese travellers was in its infancy "compared to what is possible".

He said Bowler's challenge was to maintain the visitor growth while also ensuring it was sustainable.