The past three years have been tough for tourism.
The global financial crisis, fuel prices, exchange rates and two crippling earthquakes have taken their toll.
But the number of international visitors has continued to grow, even if the planes are offloading fewer long-staying, high-spending Americans and Europeans, and more short-stay Asians.
"We're seeing more visitors in Auckland and Rotorua, but we're not getting the distribution we used to from the number of Europeans who would be here maybe 45 days, and go all around the country," Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler says. "That means big parts of the industry aren't seeing the benefits of the arrival numbers."
Getting Asian visitors to stay longer and travel further is vital. China and Indonesia have enormous potential. Indonesia's Garuda starts flying between Jakarta and Auckland next year, and Auckland International Airport hopes to grow the current 12 weekly direct flights from China to 35 by 2020.
Visitor numbers from China jumped nearly 24 per cent over the past year, but three-quarters of arrivals were on Australian package tours, with only a couple of nights here.
Bowler and other industry leaders want New Zealand pushed as a destination in its own right.
"It's about getting more visitor days from China, rather than just more visitors."
He believes New Zealand needs to lift its service standards and improve the quality of the experiences on offer. "We need to ask if we have what we need to attract high-value visitors. We have to deliver the service experience and comfort levels they want, and I'm not sure we do that," he says, pointing to the lack of high-end accommodation outside Auckland and Queenstown.
Chinese visitors have different needs to those from New Zealand's more traditional markets.
"They have different dietary preferences, and we need to learn about that and deliver. It's similar to 25 years ago when Japan was on the rise. We know we leave a lot of money on the table with Chinese visitors in that they don't know what the options are, and we don't communicate well."
Auckland International Airport's aeronautical business development general manager Glen Wedlock agrees. Because North America and Europe vye for Chinese visitors and offer a similarly priced product, New Zealand needs to find a way to stand out.
Indonesia, tipped to be the world's sixth-largest economy by 2030, presents the same challenges.
New Zealand's Indonesia ambassador David Taylor says Indonesians' perceptions are outdated, making it hard to sell the country. "There's a lot of money sloshing around in Indonesia now."
The cost of getting to New Zealand is about the same as travelling to Europe, and Indonesians perceive there is more to see and do there. "We need to change that."
Recovering the visitor numbers lost after the Canterbury quakes is another problem. Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism estimates it lost 1 million guest nights â around $230m in revenue â following the February 2011 quake.
Bowler says the phase where people were afraid to come has passed, but there are lingering logistical issues that need to be fixed. "We're up against a lack of accommodation, and that's a problem we're going to have to work through for a long time."
Around 825 hotel rooms are available in Christchurch â down from 3710 before the quakes. That should rise to 2174 by mid-2014 as hotels reopen, still only 60 per cent of its pre-quake capacity.
"The city needs to make a call on its convention centre, because it will be the heart of the hotel area. The hotels won't commit until there's clarity around where it will be," he says.
The industry hopes the December release of director Sir Peter Jackson's first Hobbit movie will lead to renewed interest.
"We're excited about how we can leverage New Zealand's role.
"If we can associate New Zealand as home to Middle-earth, there's an opportunity to reach millions of people our marketing could never hope to reach," says Bowler.
Tourism New Zealand brand and international PR general manager Catherine Bates says campaigns promoting the country as Middle-earth will be rolled out soon.
"Our objective is to let audiences know what appears to be a fantasy is a real place to be enjoyed by all visitors."
Tourism Minister John Key, who flew to Queenstown last week to attend Trenz, the industry trade show, believes tourism has turned a corner. "We're starting to feel more optimistic about where it's going. Our numbers are starting to recover and look quite good.
"We're up 4.4 per cent overall in terms of visitor numbers. We're seeing tremendous growth out of certain markets, and we're continuing to rate well."