(Fixes incorrect figures for nationals' arrivals in 2nd graph)
By Paul McBeth
March 22 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand visitor arrivals climbed 9 percent last month as Chinese visitors more than doubled from a year ago amid celebrations of the Lunar New Year.
Short-term visitor arrivals rose to a seasonally adjusted 223,410 in February from 204,950 a year earlier, according to Statistics New Zealand. The number of Chinese visitors rose 106 percent to 31,536, and arrivals from Hong Kong jumped 144 percent to 3,760. US visitors rose 8.9 percent to 26,896, carrying on the trend last month as more Americans visited New Zealand on cruise ships.
"This largely reflects the timing of the Chinese New Year, which fell in February this year compared to January last year (and wouldn't be accounted for in the seasonally adjusted numbers)," Westpac Banking economist Felix Delbruk said in a note. "Looking through the volatility visitor arrival numbers appear to be improving - they have risen 6.9 percent over the past four months."
Tourists from China have been the saving grace of an industry struggling with a strong exchange rate and high costs of long-haul flights in recent years. Total spend by international arrivals fell six per cent to $5.42 billion in the 2012 calendar year, coming down from a spike in 2011 from the Rugby World Cup.
Chinese visitor numbers were unseasonally low in January due to the later timing of the Lunar New Year, which ushered in the Year of the Snake.
Today's figures showed a seasonally adjusted net inbound migration of 550 in February, compared to an outflow of 610 in the same month a year earlier. On an annual basis, New Zealand has gained a net 420 new migrants.
The exodus to Australia continued to slow in February, with a seasonally adjusted net loss of 2,540, the smallest since January 2011. Some 37,361 more people have moved to Australia in the year ended Feb. 28.