THE main event lasts just 12 minutes, but New Year's Eve is by far the most important event of the year for tourism in NSW, if not Australia, new tourism data shows.
Research measuring the real, direct benefit of major events in NSW for the first time reveals that Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations bring 85,000 interstate and overseas visitors and $155 million into NSW.
Overseas visitors make up about 15 per cent of the 700,000 people crammed on to the harbour foreshore, with each tourist staying an average of 16 nights.
New Year's Eve dwarfs both the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, which brings in 21,500 visitors and $30 million, and the Tamworth country music festival - 15,000 people and $25 million - in direct financial benefit.
''[New Year's Eve] would be the biggest event on the calendar in terms of numbers and financial benefit,'' Events NSW chief executive Geoff Parmenter said.
Backpacker hostels across the inner city have been booked out for the past six months, with the new YHA hostel in The Rocks filled in just 24 hours. After recovering from their hangovers, most stay on for extended trips around the state before heading to the Gold Coast, Melbourne or Uluru.
''It's a linchpin around which they pin their trip,'' YHA NSW marketing manager Janet McGarry said. ''It means that Sydney is always on the itinerary. It's got a terrific reputation within this brand of travel as a 'must-do thing', and that's a great thing to Australia.
''It's a bit like Octoberfest - if you're going to Germany you would try to get there.''
Mr Parmenter said that unlike previous surveys and those in Queensland and Victoria, the new research only counted those who came to NSW specifically for the event.
''If people came here to visit family, then we reasoned that they would have been spending that money anyway, so they weren't included in the figures.
''Some of our competitors use multipliers whereby they multiply every dollar made by a factor of 1.7 or 1.8 because they said there was a flow-on effect from spending. We prefer to be conservative to give the people some confidence in the numbers.''
Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore said the event was ''a global broadcast of Sydney to the world''.