More tourists visited the country over the past year but the amount they spent declined.
The Ministry of Economic Development's International Visitor Survey shows numbers of visitors jumped almost 4%, in the year to September 2010, but their overall spending fell by 5.4%, to $5.8 billion.
The ministry's director, Roger Wigglesworth, says this reflects the continuing impact of the global recession.
He says South Korean and Chinese visitors bucked the trend, with their spending increasing by about 20%.
Mr Wigglesworth says more Australians visited in the last year than in any other year since 1985, making up about 45% of all tourists.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar says the spending drop is significant and will have a flow-on effect throughout the rest of the economy.
However, he says the industry is confident that as the exchange rate and consumer confidence improve, spending will follow.