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Throughout the region there were 273,504 more visitor nights recorded in the year ended November 2013 than during the previous 12 months.
Growth in Waitaki, Queenstown and Dunedin helped push the total figure to 4.9 million - up from 4.6 million.
Queenstown had the most visitor nights (2.7 million), followed by Dunedin (814,665).
Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said the overall growth in visitor nights supported the notion that consumer confidence, and in turn tourism, was increasing.
Mr Saxton said visitor nights data, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's commercial accommodation monitor (Cam), was a good indication of the visitor economy.
It did not, however, take into account hosted and private accommodation and could not determine the number of people visiting, only the occupancy rates of co-operating accommodation providers.
''Cam is a barometer and therefore can only be best used as an indication of the trading environment,'' Mr Saxton said.
Dunedin was profiting from the strong cruise sector, a recovery in domestic visitor numbers, steadily increasing international visitors and interest in the city as a business events destination.
A 2011 survey showed Dunedin had about 878 hotel rooms, 829 motel units, 105 backpacker rooms and 126 holiday park units. In the year ended December 2013, the city had an occupancy rate (excluding holiday parks) of 60.3%.
Mr Saxton said Dunedin-specific data for the year ended November 2013 was positive and showed signs of improvement.
Large events, including the international mammalogy conference in Dunedin in December, made a huge difference to the city's visitor economy and highlighted the importance of having suitable infrastructure such as the Dunedin Centre, he said.
Dunedin's domestic visitor nights were up 3.8% to 509,806, and international visitor nights up 0.1% to 304,858. The city hosted 1276 events and had 2.5% of the national market for commercial visitor nights. Queenstown had 8.5%.
Nationally, visitor arrivals increased by 5.3% to 2.7 million.
Of all international visitors to the South Island, 85% arrived through Christchurch International Airport.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment forecast visitor numbers and spending to reach new highs by 2019.
International visitor expenditure for the year ended September 2013 was $6.5 billion.
The average visitor spent $145 a day, and $2750 per trip.