New Zealand is the best holiday spot in the world, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Aotearoa edged out the stunning Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean and also South Africa to be voted best destination in a poll of 17,000 readers.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said the accolade was a huge honour.
“It’s great news for us to know that even in these tough economic times, long-haul destinations like New Zealand are obviously still so important and inspiring.”
He cited last year’s Rugby World Cup and the upcoming world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as highlights on the tourism calendar.
The latest visitor figures reveal New Zealand short-term visitor numbers fell in September compared with a year earlier, which was bolstered by the Rugby World Cup.
China overtook the United States as the third-largest visitor source.
Some 179,100 short-term visitors arrived here last month, down from 219,900 visitors in September 2011, according to Statistics New Zealand.
Figures released this week showed total guest nights at short-term accommodation fell 3.6 per cent to 2.11 million in September, compared with the same month a year earlier, and were down 1.4 per cent from August.
Air New Zealand announced last week that it was axing its service to Britain through Hong Kong, which will have lost tens of millions of dollars when it closes after six years next March.
Air New Zealand deputy chief executive Norm Thompson said there had been a “softening” in visitor numbers from the UK and Europe.
But those travellers came for three or four weeks rather than days, offering good value to the economy.
Mr Thompson was not surprised to see New Zealand top the poll.
“The coastline, the cuisine, the people – people have a good experience here. When you start getting mentions [like this poll] and the added exposure of The Hobbit, then we would hope to reverse the reduction in visitors from that part of the world.”
The poll also ranked Air New Zealand the third best long-haul airline. Mr Thompson said that was testament to the people who worked for the company.
Favourite worldwide country
1 New Zealand
3 South Africa
Favourite long-haul airline
1 Singapore Airlines
3 Air New Zealand
Source: Daily Telegraph, poll of 17,000 readers
See also: NZ best country in world for business – Forbes