WELLINGTON, Feb. 3 -- The first-ever direct commercial flight from China to New Zealand's South Island touched down in Christchurch Monday, bringing with it hopes of an economic boost to an area still recovering from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
The China Southern Airlines charter flight from Guangzhou was also the first commercial flight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner into Christchurch Airport.
The New Zealand Tourism Industry Association chief executive Martin Snedden said in a statement Monday that the number of visitors coming from China, New Zealand's second biggest visitor market after Australia, would continue to grow as it became easier for them to reach New Zealand.
The service from Guangzhou to New Zealand's second city, part of a one-off charter program for the Chinese New Year, could lead to a regular scheduled service, Christchurch Airport CEO Jim Boult said in a statement in November last year.
Previously Chinese visitors to the South Island had to fly in from Australia or elsewhere in New Zealand.
China Southern Airlines launched a scheduled service flying 787 Dreamliners between Guangzhou and Auckland, in the North Island, in October last year.
Chinese visitors to New Zealand were up 16.2 percent to 228,928 last year, although the monthly numbers towards the end of 2013 were down from the previous year, following the introduction on Oct. 1 of a new Chinese tourism law in China placing restrictions on low-cost shopping tours, thereby increasing the price of many tour packages.
As a result of the law, just 5,600 visitors arrived from China for a three or four-day stay in December, compared with 9,700 in December 2012, while more visitors arrived from China for a stay of 11 days or longer, up from 4,500 in December 2012 to 6,700 in December 2013, according to Statistics New Zealand.
South Island tourism chiefs have said the new law is encouraging more Chinese to travel there.