Overview of visitor arrivals to Christchurch.

Christchurch is both a gateway and a destination. The Canterbury Earthquake Sequence had a significant impact on the number of tourists visiting the city, which affected many aspects of the local economy.

The 2016 Christchurch Visitor Strategy(external link) provides the strategic direction for attracting more domestic and international visitors to the city, while securing Christchurch's gateway position to the South Island.

Topic Status Key findings
Passenger movements at Christchurch Airport Increasing trendIncreasingTrend December 2017 was Christchurch Airport's busiest month ever with 639,000 passengers passing through, around 28,000 more than in December 2016. Further information.
Passengers' country of origin Increasing trendIncreasingTrend Australian residents make up almost half of overseas arrivals at Christchurch Airport. In 2018 there were 261,000 arrivals from Australian residents, marking the fourth consecutive year of growth. Further information.
Purpose of visit InformationInformation Almost one third of overseas visitors arriving in New Zealand via Christchurch Airport indicated they were here for a holiday. Further information.
Visitor expenditure Increasing trendIncreasingTrend Overall tourism expenditure has increased annually since 2012, reaching $3.03 billion for the year to June 2018. Further information.
Cruise ships Increasing trendIncreasingTrend

In the 2018-19 cruise ship season, there were 92 cruise ship visits in Akaroa Harbour, and 17 smaller vessels in Lyttelton Harbour. Further information.

Cruise ship passengers Fluctuating trend

127,500 passengers passed through Akaroa Harbour in the 2017-18 season, down 12% from the previous season.

4600 passengers passed through Lyttelton Harbour in 2017-18, which was 84% higher than the previous year. Further information.

Christchurch Airport passenger movements

Passenger movements at Christchurch Airport continue to increase, with December 2017 being the airport's busiest month ever. In this month there were 451,000 domestic passengers and 188,000 international passengers.

Looking at the 12-month running averages (to smooth out seasonal fluctuations, as the summer months are the peak tourist season), these continue to increase to record highs. Domestic passengers averaged 439,000 in May 2018, while international passengers averaged 148,000 in June 2018.

Following the 2010/2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, domestic passenger numbers declined from a 12-month average of 366,000 at August 2010 to 341,000 at August 2012, before gradually recovering and exceeding pre-earthquake figures in late 2014 and early 2015.

Similarly, international passenger numbers also declined but took much longer to exceed pre-earthquake figures. International passenger numbers fell from a 12-month running average of 134,000 at August 2010 to 108,000 at September 2013, before recovering and exceeding pre-quake figures by late 2016 and early 2017.

Airport passengers' country of origin

In 2018, there were 555,000 short-term visitor arrivals to Christchurch Airport from overseas residents. This was the highest in the time series dating back to 2000.

Prior to the earthquakes, arrivals by overseas residents decreased by almost 18,000 between 2008 and 2009, largely as a result of the global financial crisis. Between 2009 and 2010 overseas visitor arrival numbers were recovering by 31,000, with increases from all countries except Japan and the United Kingdom.

Arrivals by overseas residents fell by around 150,000 following the earthquakes (from 547,000 in 2010 to 395,000 in 2013). Since 2013 there has been annual growth in overseas visitor arrivals, and in 2018, arrivals exceeded pre-earthquake figures for the first time.

In 2018, Australian residents arriving at Christchurch Airport for a short-term stay made up almost half (47%) of all overseas arrivals, the highest of any nationality. Around 261,000 Australian residents arrived in New Zealand via Christchurch Airport, the highest number since the effects of the 2010/2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence.

Following Australia, residents of China were the next numerous at 54,000 arrivals (comprising around 10% of overseas residents arriving at Christchurch Airport). Arrivals from China increased by 25% between 2017 and 2018. Arrivals from residents of the United Kingdom were the third highest in 2018, at 40,000 (7.2% of all arrivals).

Arrivals from Japanese nationals had been declining since 2000, and since 2010 have decreased by a further 73%. This is possibly due to the upheaval caused by their own earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred in Japan in March 2011.

Purpose of visit

The most common reasons that overseas visitors arriving in New Zealand via Christchurch Airport gave for visiting was for a holiday or vacation. Almost one third (63%) indicated that they were visiting for a holiday or vacation in the year ended June 2018.

The next most common reason for coming to New Zealand was to visit friends or family. This proportion has increased over the last two decades, from 17% in 2000 to 25% in 2018. 

Around 5% of arrivals were here for business purposes and a further 6% were here for other purposes (such as temporary work, performing in arts/sport/entertainment, stopover etc.).

Tourism spending

The earthquakes had a significant effect on tourism spending in the region. Spending in ChristchurchNZ RTO (includes Christchurch, Selwyn, Waimak, Ashburton and Hurunui) fell from $2.35 billion in 2010 to $1.93 million in 2012, a decrease of 18%.

Overall tourist spending has increased annually since 2012, and reached $3.03 billion for the year to June 2018, the highest on record.

In the year ended June 2018, domestic tourists spent $1.9 billion in the ChristchurchNZ RTO, which was 63% of total tourist spending. Domestic tourism expenditure was less impacted by the earthquakes than international, falling by $54 million between 2010 and 2012 (a decrease of 3.9%). By 2013, domestic spending had recovered and exceeded pre-quake spending levels, and has increased each year since.

International tourism expenditure was more impacted by the earthquakes, falling by $374 million between 2010 and 2012 (a 38% decrease). This reflected the downward trend in international arrivals during this period.

It was only in 2016 that spending levels exceeded pre-quake levels, and in 2018 total international expenditure was $1.13 billion.

Further information about regional monthly expenditure on tourism, including maps and charts, can be found on MBIE's website(external link).

Visitors from Australia and Asia accounted for over half of the region's international tourism expenditure in 2018. Visitors from Australia comprised 23% of international tourism expenditure, spending $261 million in the year ended June 2018. There has been significant expenditure growth from China and the rest of Asia since the earthquakes. Visitors from Asia had a combined total spend of $391 million in 2018, making up 35% of international tourism expenditure.

Retail spending accounted for one third of all spending by international visitors in the year to June 2018, with a combined total spend of $387 million. Food and beverage serving services comprised 23% of expenditure, followed by other tourism products (17%), passenger transport (12% ) and accommodation services (12%).

Cruise ship visits

The number of cruise ships scheduled to arrive in Christchurch's harbours increased overall from 13 in 1997 to a record 109 in 2019 (according to the NZ Cruise Association Schedule).

The earthquakes had an immediate effect on the number of cruise ships arriving at Lyttelton Harbour. Since 2013, cruise ships have largely been diverted to Akaroa Harbour, as Lyttelton Harbour has been unable to host large cruise ships.

The new $56 million cruise ship berth(external link) in Lyttelton is expected to be completed in the next few years. The berth will be able to accommodate some of the largest cruise liners from around the world.

Cruise ship passengers

In 2018, there were 127,580 cruise passengers (based on unique passport numbers) who docked at Akaroa Harbour. This was 17,800 fewer (-12%) than in 2017.

Passengers travelling via Lyttelton Harbour numbered 4580, which was 84% higher than in 2017 (2490).

In the 2018/2019 cruise ship season, the Majestic Princess had the highest capacity out of all visiting cruise ships, with capacity for 4906 people (3560 passengers and 1346 crew). There were 14 scheduled visits by this ship to Akaroa for the season.

Local spending by cruise ship visitors docking at Lyttleton and Akaroa harbours totalled $38.2 million in 2018, compared with $34.3 million in 2017.

Visitors disembarking at Akaroa spent $34.7 million in 2018, up 7% from 2017. This is despite a 12% decrease in cruise ship passengers in 2018. Lyttelton Harbour visitors spent one tenth of this amount, with $3.4 million spent locally in 2018, up 79% from 2017.

Cruise expenditure movements can be influenced by a range of factors including the number of ship voyages, port visits, a transit versus exchange cruise, cruise ship capacity, a boutique versus large cruise ship, weather events, economic conditions, and exchange rates.


Further information

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