Buses arrive at Itchen St almost every day, dropping off tourists for short periods before taking them out of town.
The tourists are spending plenty on food and drink, but their retail spending is less than half that.
Business South Waitaki navigator Rebecca Finlay said recent Marketview data showed there was $500,000 spent on food and beverages using international transfers in the month of December.
About $227,000 was spent on retail through international transfers.
It was noticed by retailers as well, who said day-trippers liked to stop in, but rarely bought anything.
Art on Thames owner Philina den Dulk said independent tourists were more likely to take the time to browse and buy something.
Most travellers were only interested in items made in New Zealand and anything little blue penguin-themed was popular.
Tourists sometimes made their way north of the Victorian Precinct, but most did not have time to spend shopping.
She would see a few more customers on busy bus days, but there was no noticeable increase in sales.
Inc Design Store owner Helen Riley-Duddin said her shop, stationed right outside the bus stop, rarely sold anything to tourists.
If tourists stayed overnight they would have the time to shop around and spend money, shesaid.
There was "huge potential" for the town to benefit from tourists, but at the moment it was not set up to accommodate them.
Changing the tourism landscape to better capitalise on the opportunity would take "a collaborative effort", but she believed it would be a great benefit to the town.
Although tourists were not bringing in much business, she enjoyed having the increase in foot traffic around the streets.
"It makes the place feel like it should."
Tourists often told her they would have liked to spend more time in the area.
It was a sentiment shared by Martin and Astrid Strzys, of Germany.
Mr Strzys said they expected to see "one or two" buildings made of Oamaru stone and were surprised by its prevalence.
They wanted more time to stay and explore, but were on a scheduled trip of just a few hours.
Coko Lounge owner Oisin Altena-Russell said he liked the idea of pushing for longer stays, but the reality of making something like that happen was another story.
There was the question of where they would stay and who would lead such an effort.
Although many people enjoyed their visit, the town was not seen as much of a destination by tourists.
"Oamaru is like an art display for the buses."
Campervan tourists were the ones who spent more money around town, but there had been less of those this summer compared with last, he said.
He would typically serve about five to 10 tourists a day, but on a busy day up to 50.
As soon as one tourist stopped by his cart the rest would come over and line up.
Harbour St Bakery manager Kathryn Paaske said summer had been busy and most tourists who entered the store bought something.
The pies were always the first to sell out. They were often seen as an exotic treat and she was sometimes asked how they were supposed to be eaten.
Tourism Waitaki consumer and trade marketing manager Jade Harvey said there had been a "significant surge in tourism over summer".
The latest figures, which ran only to November, reported a 21% increase in visitor days, tracked by mobile data and electronic purchases, compared with 2022 and a 28% rise in guest nights at commercial accommodation.
There was also an increase in domestic tourism — a 17% rise in visitor days and guest nights.
The transport services sector and activity, travel and tour sector saw employment jumps of 19% and 15% respectively compared with 2022.
International visitor days had increased by 68%.
"This is all a clear indication that Waitaki is on track to return to pre-pandemic tourism figures.
"The fact that these numbers don’t even include the typically busy Christmas period is particularly encouraging."
Ms Finlay said tourism had changed after Covid as there were now increasing numbers of small groups or independent travellers.
Hospitality was "booming" and many establishments were increasingly being booked out.
Managing staff levels to cope with the demand was a continuing issue, especially for chefs, she said.