The tourism sector is gearing up for what is expected to be a record number of Chinese tourists arriving to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Between 70,000 and 75,000 Chinese are expected to visit New Zealand in February, a 35 percent increase on last year.

The first week of Chinese New Year, known as Golden Week, is set to be the busiest.

Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said the visitors would spend an average of eight days travelling the country, predominately in the South Island.

“We’re seeing huge increases, particularly this year because of increased air capacity from China directly into Auckland and Christchurch.”

Hunter said Chinese tourists were increasingly dispersing more, travelling to smaller towns like Hanmer Springs and Akaroa.

“Over the Chinese New Year period, we are getting really big volumes. I think the smaller towns embrace the Chinese because they are a new market. It’s a growing market and it spends well.”

Real Journeys, which runs tours at Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, had experienced a surge in bookings for Golden Week. The company’s chief executive, Richard Lauder, said they had the capacity to cope.

“The Chinese market is very important. When there was a drop in the European market during the market crash, the Chinese still came – but the positive now is the European and US markets are growing strongly as well, so tourism is experiencing a boom.”

Lauder said they had about 30 staff who could speak Mandarin, and they took the time to decorate the buses in traditional Chinese New Year fashion.

“We get great feedback from the Chinese tour operators. They enjoy the authentic New Zealand experience; they love our blue sky and wide open spaces. We take them up to Cardrona – for them, to stand on top of the mountain is a great experience.”

Several hotels in Queenstown and Wanaka said they had been booked out for Golden Week for months.

A spokesperson from Wanaka’s Edgewater, Trish May, said a lot of work went into making the tourists feel welcome.

“We cater for them with specific things on our menu, and decorate the hotel for Chinese New Year. Also, most of our staff have been through some form of Chinese cultural training.”

Local businesses ran off the tourism industry so any strain on resources during busy periods was outweighed by the positives, May said.