Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism says the February 2011 earthquake set the city's accommodation industry back by 30 years.
Tim Hunter, the organisation's chief executive, says the amount of accommodation available in the South Island city has dropped to the same level as 30 years ago.
Mr Hunter was speaking at the Australasian University Tourism and Hospitality Education Conference, which is being held for the first time in New Zealand, at Lincoln University.
He said the city lost 60% of its accommodation and guest numbers dropped to minus 46% in the months following the fatal quake - figures he described as a tourism industry's worst nightmare.
Although 15 hotel premises opened in December last year, the recovery is slow and the main challenge is attracting tourists back to Christchurch, he said.