China has surged ahead of the United Kingdom to become New Zealand's second largest tourist market, according to figures out today.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) today released its quarterly International Visitor Survey, which shows spending by Chinese visitors has increased by 37 per cent in the last year.

A total spend of $555 million in the year to September 2012 put China ahead of UK spending ($545 million) for the first time.

Ongoing growth in the Chinese visitor spend would have major implications for our tourism industry, said the ministry's tourism research and evaluation manager Peter Ellis.


"In the last three years China has overtaken Japan, the United States and now the UK tourist markets to become our second largest tourism market, as we forecast 14 months ago would happen around this time," he said.

"The number of visitors from China has increased by 37 per cent in the last year alone, and just as importantly, the amount they spend while here has also risen by 37 per cent."

Chinese spending was still less than a third of New Zealand's largest tourist market Australia, which spent $1.7 billion in the year.

Statistics New Zealand released figures last month showing China had overtaken the US as New Zealand's third largest visitor source in the September year, up to 187,000.

This comes behind the 1.17 million Australians and 198,000 visitors from the UK.

Ellis said Chinese visitors tended to take shorter trips to New Zealand than other visitors, and they tended to focus on Auckland and Rotorua.

On average, Chinese tourists spend 16.6 days and $3,300 in New Zealand.

The MBIE was working with the tourism industry on a China Market Review, he said.

"The aim is to identify actions to improve the quality of experiences for Chinese visitors and maximise the potential of this surge in tourism."

The Visitor Survey showed the total visitor spend - including all countries - fell by two per cent in the year, despite arrivals numbers increasing two per cent.

The drop was largely due to a change in the visitor mix, with visits to friends and family increasing from 33 to 35 per cent of the total, the MBIE said in a statement.

People who stay with friends and family typically spend less money while here.

The International Visitor Survey is based on interviews of 5,200 tourists per year departing from New Zealand airports.