The high New Zealand dollar and the European debt crisis are likely to further dent the tourism sector this year. But growth from Asian nations may provide some reprieve for operators.
The first week of the year saw more than 170,000 international arrivals and departures at Auckland International Airport - its busiest-ever week for international travel.
Tourism operators say it's a good sign, but probably not the turnaround everyone's been waiting for.
Inbound Tour Operators Council president Martin Horgan expects 2012 to be tough for the tourism sector.
He says more visitors from China and Malaysia may compensate for fewer long-haul travellers, but they are unlikely to provide the same boost to spending because they don't stay as long and don't see as much of New Zealand.
Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar says further consolidation in the industry is likely without improved growth.
Mr Horgan says cost cutting will remain a focus. But with marketing budgets so tight, there's a risk New Zealand may concentrate on attracting more visitors from Asia, at the expense of traditional European markets.
Mr Cossar says the domestic market is expected to pick up this year, but with the New Zealand dollar so high, travellers could easily be lured into holidaying abroad.