A group of Chinese tourists due to start their week-long New Zealand tour on Jan 2 have still not been issued visitor visas after a two-month wait.
Now, questions are being raised about whether Immigration New Zealand will be able to cope with the expected rise in number of visa applications for NZ-China Year of Tourism 2019.
INZ has said it was struggling to cope with the high volumes of visa applications, and NZ Chinese Travel and Tourism Association chair Simon Cheung says the agency "clearly" needed more staff.
The agency is currently processing approximately 45,000 temporary visas - which includes 26,000 offshore and 19,000 onshore applications.
"Visa delays give a negative experience even before the holiday starts and it gives destination NZ a bad reputation," Cheung said.
"We expect at least a 10 to 20 per cent increase in the number of Chinese tourists and we are working with both INZ and Customs to ensure smoother arrivals and entry for these visitors."
More than 100,000 Chinese visitors come here each year on group tours and their visa applications are often lodged as a single group, Cheung said.
"When even when one applicant in the group has an issue with his or her application, it can delay the visas for every one in the group," he said.
Cheung said the association was keen to help INZ get information on visitor entry requirements and advised to lodge applications early online to would-be visitors in China through its 200-plus members.
"But clearly, INZ will need more manpower to process these visas when they come in," Cheung added.
The operator, who is in limbo because his Chinese tour group has still not been granted visas, does not want to be named for fear he could be "blacklisted" by INZ.
Immigration manager Michael Carley said the agency was currently experiencing high volumes of visa applications and visitor visa processing times may be longer.
"INZ will not be able to progress applications that do not produce all of the required information up front or do not include translations," Carley said.
"We cannot prioritise visa applications even if applicants have already purchased travel."
Applicants are being advised to apply online using the Immigration Online System via the agency's website.
Currently about 75 per cent of visitor visas are approved within 18 days, and those that took longer required additional information or verification.
The NZ-China Tourism Year initiative was first announced during an official visit from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last year.
About 453,000 Chinese visited NZ in the last 12 months, and it is forecasted to increase to 800,000 by 2024.
However Carley said he did not expect an influx of visitors from China due to the Year of Tourism.
But he said the Tourism Year provides a great opportunity for New Zealanders and tourism operators to learn more about China and its culture.
"It's also an opportunity to think about how we can encourage visitors to explore more of New Zealand at different times of the year," he added.