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
International passenger movements at Christchurch Airport Increasing trendIncreasingTrend In 2019, there were 551,600 visitor arrivals at Christchurch Airport from residents of other countries. Further information.
Passengers' country of origin Increasing trendIncreasingTrend Australian residents make up almost half of overseas visitor arrivals at Christchurch Airport (260,000 arrivals in 2019). Further information.
Purpose of visit InformationInformation Almost two thirds 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 billion for the year to June 2019. 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 Increasing trendIncreasingTrend

187,800 passengers passed through Akaroa Harbour in the 2018-19 season, up 47% from the previous season.

8,500 passengers passed through Lyttelton Harbour in 2018-19, which was 86% higher than the previous year. Further information.

Christchurch Airport international passenger movements

In 2019, there were 551,600 short-term visitor arrivals to Christchurch Airport from overseas residents, slightly down from the 2018 peak of 554,500.

Prior to the earthquakes, arrivals by overseas residents decreased by over 18,000 between 2008 and 2009, largely as a result of the global financial crisis. 

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.

Airport passengers' country of origin

In 2019, 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. Almost 260,000 Australian residents arrived in New Zealand via Christchurch Airport, around the same number as in 2011.

Residents of China were the next numerous at 58,000 arrivals (comprising around 11% of overseas residents arriving at Christchurch Airport). Growth from China has increased by over 600% since 2011. 

Arrivals from residents of the United Kingdom were the third highest in 2019, at 37,000 (6.7% of all arrivals). This was also similar to the number in 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 two thirds (63%) indicated that they were visiting for a holiday or vacation in the year ended June 2019.

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 24% in 2019. 

Around 5% of arrivals were here for business purposes and a further 7% 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 $2.24 billion in 2010 to $1.81 million in 2012, a decrease of 19%.

Overall tourist spending has increased annually since 2012, and reached $2.96 billion for the year to June 2019, the highest on record.

In the year ended June 2019, domestic tourists spent $1.8 billion in the ChristchurchNZ RTO, which was 61% of total tourist spending. Domestic tourism expenditure was less impacted by the earthquakes than international, falling by $73 million between 2010 and 2012 (a decrease of 5.7%). 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 $361 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 2019 total international expenditure was $1.16 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 just over half of the region's international tourism expenditure in 2019. Visitors from Australia comprised 24% of international tourism expenditure, spending $281 million in the year ended June 2019. 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 $314 million in 2019, making up 27% of international tourism expenditure.

Retail spending accounted for one third of all spending by international visitors in the year to June 2019, with a combined total spend of $407 million. Food and beverage serving services comprised 21% of expenditure, followed by other tourism products (18%), passenger transport (13% ) 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 2019, there were 187,800 cruise passengers (based on unique passport numbers) who docked at Akaroa Harbour. This was 60,200 (47%) more than in 2018.

Passengers travelling via Lyttelton Harbour numbered 8,500, which was 86% higher than in 2018.

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 Lyttelton and Akaroa harbours totalled $53.7 million in 2019, compared with $48 million in 2018.

Visitors disembarking at Akaroa spent $45.3 million in 2019, up 7.9% from 2018. This is despite a 47% increase in cruise ship passengers in 2019. Lyttelton Harbour visitors spent one fifth of this amount, with $8.3 million spent locally in 2019, up 39% from 2018.

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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