An early Easter is being blamed for the biggest fall in visitor arrivals seen since July 2005.

On a seasonally adjusted basis arrivals dropped by 11.8 per cent between March and April and were down 7 per cent between April 2007 and April 2008.

Statistics New Zealand spokesman Ian Richards said much of the April arrivals decline was linked to visitors shifting their holidays to March because of the early Easter holiday.

The average number of overseas visitors in New Zealand was 2 per cent higher per day in April and the average stay had increased from 17 to 19 days, which meant people had arrived in March and decided to stay longer.

Richards said if the total number of visitors for March and April was compared with the same two months last year, arrivals were down by only 1 per cent.

Richards said the early Easter could also be a factor in the drop off in visitors from New Zealand’s key markets Australia, the UK and the US.

Numbers of Australian visitors were down 6 per cent while British visitors fell 11 per cent and Americans were down by 20 per cent.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive George Hickton said a tougher economic climate was affecting the major long-haul markets.

“The increase in food and fuel prices … rising interest rates and a general economic slowdown are impacting consumer certainty and willingness to spend on travel.”

He said operators were already reporting lower visitor numbers than normal.

“Many say that Easter falling in March this year has definitely had an impact and stopped some families planning a longer break to coincide with April school holidays,” he said.

But Chinese visitors were up 3.9 per cent in April. Earlier this year China overtook Japan as New Zealand’s fourth biggest tourism market and in April Japanese visitors continued a decline which has seen numbers dropping on a month-on-month basis since December 2004.

Tourism New Zealand hopes an advertising campaign launched in Shanghai at the end of April will further boost visitors from China.

Visitors from Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan were also down. Overall, visitor arrivals were up 1 per cent to 2.483 million on the April 2008 year compared with last year.

* April visitor arrivals
* Australia down 6%
* UK down 11%
* US down 20%
* China up 3.9%