New Zealand faces a revenue gap of $12.9 billion a year without international visitors.
Research for Tourism New Zealand shows that it takes 12 overnight trips from Kiwis to equal the spend of one international visitor and foreign tourists spend up to three times more a day than locals.
International visitors spend $232 a day, Kiwis travelling around the country spend $155 a day while those residents staying local spend $74 a day.
"Kiwis are doing a fantastic job travelling domestically but New Zealand will need high value international visitors to sustain the sector and the economy outside weekends and public holidays," said Tourism NZ chief executive Stephen England-Hall.
Total spending by international visitors was $17.2b in the 12 months ended March last year. New Zealanders spent $23.7b on domestic holidays and it is estimated this will be because they can't holiday overseas this will be boosted by $4.2b - half of what Kiwis spent on trips abroad last year.
The study by Tourism NZ - a government agency - and economists, Fresh Info, drew on data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment data as well as Stats NZ.
It showed Government revenue was boosted by $849 for every international visitor. New Zealand tourists paid about $11 a day in GST while international visitors paid $26 a day.
Every $178,000 of tourism spend created one job and this was equal to 42 international visitors or 480 domestic overnight trips.
England-Hall said tourism was vital to the country's recovery and the research would dispel some misconceptions.
"Tourism is a major employer of women and youth and on average every $178,000 of visitor spend creates one new job. These jobs are important for our regions, especially where there may be few other employment options."
"Embracing technology and improving digital capability could lift tourism productivity even further. This could result in higher wages and better standards of living, especially for our regional communities."
England-Hall said the research showed there was still some work to do to become more environmentally sustainable.
"The sector is doing some incredible things to reduce or offset carbon with many operators moving towards being carbon zero. While there is still work to be done, tourism's carbon efficiency is improving, and its intensity is lower than other large sectors including agriculture, utilities and mining."
He said the study results would be shared with Government and industry with more research expected to be conducted in the coming months.