Christchurch millionaire Earl Hagaman has died.

Hagaman, a tourism pioneer and owner of the Scenic Hotel Group, died today in his Christchurch home after an illness.

Lani Hagaman, Earl's wife and business partner of 30 years, said he died peacefully surrounded by family and friends.

Born in America, Earl Hagaman and friend Ralph Brown bought their first hotel, the 48-room Graham Motor Inn - which is now the 130-room Scenic Hotel Franz Josef - in 1980.

Lani Hagaman said her husband was "loved and respected by many, including business and industry colleagues, and our 1000 staff working throughout Scenic Hotel Group both here in New Zealand and the Pacific".

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"He put all his energies into developing New Zealand's tourism industry, as well as bringing much-needed jobs and income into the regional economy where most other hotel companies did not want to take that risk.

"He was a visionary and loved this country."

With Lani, Earl continued to lead the Scenic Hotel Group until his death.

"He will be greatly missed by all of us. Today was a very peaceful and loving end to a remarkable story," Lani Hagaman said.

"There will never be another Earl. I loved him immensely."

Earl and Lani Hagaman started defamation proceedings against Andrew Little in June last year after the Labour leader made remarks about donations to the National Party.

Little claimed a partial victory after a jury in the High Court at Wellington in April found he had not defamed Lani Hagaman in the court case in which the Hagamans were suing for up to $2.3 million.

The jury was unable to agree on whether four of the six instances claimed as defamatory by her husband, Earl Hagaman, were defamatory. In the one instance the jury decided was defamatory of Earl Hagaman, it was unable to agree whether Little could apply his defence of "qualified privilege" so could not enter a decision.

Lani Hagaman said last month that she will continue to pursue a defamation case against Little on behalf of her husband, including going ahead with a retrial.

In 2009 Earl was awarded the inaugural New Zealand Hotel Industry Achievement Award, and in 2014 he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his services to business, tourism and philanthropy.