China-New Zealand Year of Tourism officially opened at Te Papa

The Prime Minister's visit to China finally gets underway on Sunday - and another long-awaited event has happened on Saturday in Wellington.

The China-New Zealand Year of Tourism was officially opened at Te Papa, after being shelved last month.

Opened by Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and China's Minister of Culture Luo Shugang, it's designed to strengthen economic ties through tourism - and not focus too much on numbers.

"It's a lot about the people-to-people connections, and if we get the relationship right then other things will flow on from there," Davis says.

What that means is understanding the changing habits of Chinese tourists to New Zealand, in order to cater to them better.

"We're expecting to see more and more Chinese visitors to come. They're staying for longer, they're spending more. The nature of the Chinese visitor has changed from being mainly tour buses, through to now free and independent travellers," Davis says.

The event was supposed to happen last month but was postponed. The official reason was a scheduling issue - the Government denying its rejection of tech giant Huawei from building some of New Zealand's 5G network was what caused the delay.

"I think were a number of things that happened at the same time and people tried to convolute them into one issue," Davis says.

Nearly 450,000 Chinese tourists visited New Zealand last year, an increase of 7.3 percent on 2017. China's forecast to overtake Australia as New Zealand's biggest tourist market by 2024.

China's economy has slowed to its lowest growth rate since 1990 - but there's no concern that'll have an effect on visitor numbers.

"I don't think we're vulnerable at all. I think the growth is very strong and the Year of Tourism is actually going to increase that strength," Davis says.

A reciprocal event is set to happen in China later this year - hopefully on schedule.