Chinese visitor numbers continue to slide and are expected to drop even more sharply in the coming months with the recent travel restrictions.
According to new Statistics NZ figures released today, visitor arrivals from China fell 9 per cent to 407,100 in the December 2019 year compared with the December 2018 year.
Tourist numbers from China have been falling since early last year.
"Recent travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus are expected to further affect the number of visitor arrivals from China, at least in the short term," said population indicators manager Tehseen Islam.
The Government introduced temporary restrictions on Feb 2, 2020, for all foreign nationals travelling from or transiting through mainland China, and this coincided with the usual peak travel period of Chinese New Year.
"Monthly arrivals from China typically peak in January or February, depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year holiday period," Islam said.
"In February 2019, about 50,000 visitors arrived from China and, in February 2018, the figure was about 70,000."
New Zealand Chinese Travel and Tourism Association chair Simon Cheung said the fall in numbers did not come as a surprise but spelled bad news for tourism operators here.
Cheung said a few member operators had mentioned in its Wechat group that they had been severely hit by the downturn, and were planning to fold.
"Some operators that cater to the Chinese visitor market are preparing to shut, with some vehicle rental companies already putting up their vehicles for sale and not taking any bookings beyond March," Cheung said.
"Others have laid off staff, with many not knowing when they'd be able to start operating again."
Cheung said the travel restrictions, which have been extended for a further eight days, meant tourist numbers from China could come to a temporary halt.
However despite the fall, China remained New Zealand's second largest visitor market.
While 407,100 visitors arrived from China in 2019, New Zealand residents also took 141,600 trips to China over the same period.
Visitors from other countries however, especially Australia and the United States, are helping to make up for the continued slide from China.
Aussie visitor numbers were up 43,400 to 1.54 million and United States visitor numbers up 15,900 to 368,000.
Total visitor arrivals to New Zealand grew 0.7 per cent to 3.89 million last year.
"This is the lowest annual growth in a December year since 2013, down from 12 percent growth in the year ended December 2016," Islam said.
"The decline in visitor arrivals from China was a key factor in this."
In the December 2019 month, the total number of visitor arrivals was 528,200, down 0.2 per cent, but they tended to stay longer than in other months.
New Zealand-resident travellers returned from a record 3.10 million overseas trips in the December 2019 year, 2.7 per cent more than in 2018.
The largest increases were to Australia, Indonesia, Japan and China. Australia was the most visited country, with two in every five New Zealand-resident travellers arriving back from there.
"In 2019, we made 63 overseas trips for every 100 New Zealand residents," Islam said.
In the December 2019 month, the number of people returning from short-term trips was 194,500, up 20,200 from December 2018.