A marketing drive by Northland promotional groups and Air New Zealand could see many more visitors fly here from the land of the sleeping giant.

Waking up the massive Chinese market was the motive for showing off the region to eight Chinese tourism trade agents this month, whose companies sell 30 per cent of all Air NZ's flights out of China.

China is the second largest visitor nationality to New Zealand, after Australia, according to January figures, but only the eighth largest group to visit Northland.

Even so, the Chinese spend was worth $7 million a year to the region.


Paul Davis, Northland Inc tourism and promotions boss, said the organisation had been actively working with Air NZ to get the growing waves of Chinese visitors arriving at Auckland Airport to look north.

While Air NZ appears to have a soft spot for Northland - recently making it the location for the company's latest multi-million viewed, in-flight safety video featuring Rachel Hunter - there is no current commitment to expand its services to bring more tourists here.

But Air NZ did bring the influential agents to the region earlier this month, with Northland Inc largely co-ordinating their three-night itinerary.

Mr Davis described the visit and subsequent networking as "plugging Northland into the trade distribution channels in China".

"They'll go back and apply what they've learned as they design group tours and promotions to New Zealand."

Mr Davis said some operators were already catering to the market.

New Zealand-owned Fullers Great Sights this year employed its first Mandarin speaking salesperson and has long provided commentaries in Mandarin on its Cape Reinga coach trips and Bay of Islands boat trips, managing director Charles Parker said.

The company actively tried to attract the Chinese market, which was growing and "maturing" in other ways.


Mr Parker said Chinese visitors often travelled independently, rather than in groups with translators on board.

Northland was in a good position to benefit from the "squeeze" on expensive Auckland, Rotorua and Queensland visitor accommodation, he said.

During their visit, the Chinese trade agents were guests at a hangi and concert evening at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

"China is our eighth largest international visitor group, but the numbers were small compared to our largest markets - Australia, UK and Germany," chief executive Greg McManus said.

As most international visitors did, the Chinese reacted with appreciation and delight for the Maori cultural and historical elements of their experience there, he said.

While there were figures proving renewed visitor growth, Northland waited in vain during the early 2000s for another lucrative Asian market to arrive.

But there was only light overflow from the massive Japanese group market pouring into hotspots like Rotorua and Queenstown, before that boom went into decline around 2004.

Japanese visitor numbers are slowly building up again, but are being overtaken by the awakening Chinese sleeping giant.

And where it has traditionally proven difficult to entice coaches full of Japanese to make the trip from Auckland to Northland, Chinese tourists seem comfortable finding their own way around.

Local tourism and accommodation operators said that fits well with Northland's current style, but the sector has to develop to cater to all needs.