Auckland Airport says its goal of getting 430,000 Chinese visitors over a 12-month period is a year ahead of schedule.
As part of its Ambition 2020 strategy the airport has been working with airlines, the travel industry and marketing directly in China to not only build numbers but encourage more high-spending free and and independent travellers to visit only New Zealand rather than Australia as well.
The airport's general manager aeronautical commercial, Glenn Wedlock, says the target number could be achieved a year early given current growth rates of more than 20 per cent a year.
During the past Chinese New Year visitor numbers were up 20 per cent on last year.
"There's a greater awareness of New Zealand and we have more direct flights here."
The Ambition strategy states that by 2020 Asia, especially China, will provide the largest growth potential both in visitor arrivals and in the amount they spend when they're here. Asia could provide $2.9 billion of the projected $8.5 billion in inbound tourism value by 2020, with China providing the lion's share at $1.5 billion.
The airport spends about $10 million a year on encouraging tourism, with a big chunk of that aimed at the Chinese market.
Wedlock says the airport is hoping the number of direct flights could treble by 2020 but is not necessarily targeting other airlines on to the Auckland-China route.
"The easiest way to get the growth is to ensure the profitability is there - in Australia what you're seeing is a number of carriers have gone in but they're actually struggling for profit and they've come out," he says.
"Our approach is to get them [airlines] in, and make sure they've got the right kind of people filling them.
"Structurally we'd rather get to that end of the wedge and grow - it's aligned to the airline's profit and what the tourism industry is set up for."
About 80 per cent of Chinese tourists are on "dual destination" package tours and the airport is keen to help attract independent travellers who stay here longer and spend more.
"Our aim would be to try to get it to 50-50 over time and get about 45 per cent of all the Australasian traffic."
Wedlock says the airport is also targeting the luxury market.
Earlier this year the airport, in association with Tourism NZ, sponsored a golf tournament that attracted a group of MBA students from China and they filled the premium cabins of a China Southern flight. A high-end photography tour is also planned.
The airport has also supported a visit by Chinese TV star Dong Xuan - who has an online following of millions - to promote New Zealand.
Wedlock says Chinese visitors are good for the airport's retailers. Behind New Zealanders and Australians they are the third biggest spenders through duty free, buying mainly luxury items and alcohol.