New Zealanders are becoming more comfortable with the number of international tourists but more than half are worried that predicted growth is too much.

Research out today shows that 24 per cent of those questioned believe the number of visitors is too high, down from a five-year high of 26 per cent earlier last year.

Just on 93 per cent of those surveyed last November believe international tourism is good for New Zealand. This is the same as in March 2019 although this is down on the 96 per cent who thought it the tourism sector was good for the country in the same month a year earlier.

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And just a third agreed that the Government and industry are taking action to address the pressures created by tourism.

A survey commissioned for the tourism industry shows Kiwis are most concerned about pressure on infrastructure, environmental damage, overcrowded National Parks, increased traffic congestion and visitors trashing the country.

Tourism vies with dairy as the country's biggest foreign exchange earner and was worth $17.2 billion last year.

The Mood of the Nation survey by Kantar, which polled 1080 people throughout New Zealand, was commissioned by Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Industry Aotearoa and is regarded as a key barometer of attitudes to the industry - which had been hardening as tourism boomed.

The perception that tourists put too much pressure on New Zealand grew sharply from 18 per cent at the end of 2015 to 43 per cent last March. That has fallen by 3 percentage points in the latest survey as the rate of growth slows to low single digits and a year after the tourism boom was declared at an end.

This view is driven by two key factors: perceptions that New Zealand lacks the infrastructure to support the growing number of visitors and the perceived
negative impact of tourism on the environment.

Pressure on infrastructure remains the top concern for New Zealanders (39 per cent) followed by impacts on the environment (22 per cent), with concern about traffic congestion and overcrowding of National Parks and Great Walks both at 13 per cent.

Tourism NZ chief executive Stephen England-Hall says a range of initiatives and investment are in place to address these pressures.

The International Visitor Levy (IVL), which imposes a $35 charge on many tourists, is expected to raise more than $450 million over five years, funding projects to ensure the country gets the best from tourism growth, he says.

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And the Tourism Infrastructure Fund (TIF) provides up to $25mn annually to support regions in developing critical tourism infrastructure.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall. Photo / Nick Reed.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall. Photo / Nick Reed.

Total visitor numbers — including those here on business or visiting friends and family - are close to four million and could more than triple by 2050 according to a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton.

He said last December that: "We need to ask, are we in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg?"

The country may have to limit the number of tourists, or risk losing the environmental beauty that draws people here, said Upton.

The survey reveals considerable variation in perceptions of pressure on infrastructure.

Just on 78 per cent of Queenstown residents think international tourism puts too much pressure on New Zealand, almost double the level for the New Zealand population in general.

But Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts says the latest survey shows Kiwis are responding positively to efforts by the industry and Government to address the challenges of tourism growth.

"Concerns about traffic congestion, accommodation shortages and freedom camping are significantly down on the previous survey. As the summer visitor season hits its peak, we are continuing to keep a close watch on pressure points and will work with Government and industry to find solutions," he says.

''I think it will take time to turn around perceptions of people who have negative views on tourism.''

While visitor levies had been collected since the middle of last year, there head not been much spending. When there was, Kiwis would see the positive spin-off from the visitor industry.

Roberts says most traffic congestion is caused by local drivers, not international visitors.

The numbers

• 54% of New Zealanders believe tourism creates growth opportunities for businesses.

• 55% of New Zealanders believe tourism creates employment opportunities for residents.

•55% of New Zealanders believe tourism creates economic growth for the regions.

•12% of New Zealanders know tourism was the country's top export earner to March last year, employing 1 in 8 Kiwis

• In the past year, international tourism contributed $17.2 billion to New Zealand's economy.