Tourism spending in the Bay of Plenty has increased a huge 44 per cent in just five years, hitting $802 million last year.
The Bay of Plenty regional tourism organisation, which covers Tauranga and the Western Bay, reached $802m in visitor spending for the whole of 2016, up from $557m in 2012 according to data from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. This was a 44 per cent increase in the five years.
This made the Bay the seventh in the country for tourism spend, with Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown taking out the top spots, respectively.
Most of the tourist spend in the Bay of Plenty was from domestic tourists, making up $624m of the total $802m.
Fernland Spa owner Wendy Bartlett said she was "a hell of a lot busier" than she used to be.
"Tauranga itself has grown anyway, so there are more local people as well visitors.
But we're definitely seeing a lot more from overseas, a lot more Australians in particular.
"A lot of locals will bring their friends and family. We get lots of out-of-towners coming to stay with their families. That's quite a substantial market."
Ms Bartlett said there was also a growing awareness around health that she believed was contributing to their growth.
"We're natural geothermal, not chlorinated and the environment is not a commercial concrete jungle, it's set in the bush. I think people are more interested in the health benefits now."
Asterix Charters skipper Graham Blackwell said most of his bookings were also from around New Zealand rather than overseas.
"We do get a few from overseas, usually Australians or Americans but most come from all over New Zealand.
"I probably get maybe two lots of people off the cruise ships a year."
Mr Blackwell said most people were taking longer fishing trips this year as high winds meant fish were not coming in as close to shore.
Eastcoast Paddler part-owner Porina McLeod said she opened daily during the school holidays and was busy with mostly families. Most customers were out-of-towners, from all over the country and overseas.
"We've had a lot of interest in waka ama which we might look at doing next year."
Last year was incredibly busy, but this year had not been as full on, possibly due to the weather.
Miss McLeod said during the holidays, the company opened daily depending on weather and was usually flat out with families.
Tauranga itself has grown anyway, so there are more local people as well visitors.
"It's mostly out-of-towners, from New Zealand and overseas. It's mostly families. We've had a lot of interest in waka ama as well so we might look at doing that next year."
Miss McLeod said although last year had been a really good tourist season, this year had been quieter and there seemed to be fewer people at the Mount, possibly because of the weather.
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said domestic tourism was great for Tauranga's economy.
"Tauranga is a traditional domestic holiday destination. It's good to see that's keeping up and increasing."
Most of the tourist spend was on retail sales, at $268m, while only $58m was on accommodation services.
Mr Brownless said this was likely because most of Tauranga's tourists were domestic, and therefore were likely to stay with friends or family, or at a bach or other private accommodation.
Tourism Bay of Plenty head of marketing Kathrin Low said the spend increase correlated with an overall increase in visitor numbers. More people were visiting, which resulted in more investment.
"While domestic is definitely our strength, we believe there is growth opportunity internationally. During the peak months in summer the region is at capacity.
"Our key offshore market is Australia. In 2016 we undertook a JV [joint venture] campaign in Australia with Air NZ during the shoulder months which is estimated to have resulted in a direct $1 million in local revenue generation."
Ms Low said this year, Tourism Bay of Plenty would be working with Rotorua, Taupo and the Eastern Bay to better understand the region's collective infrastructure gaps, and opportunities, to enable international tourism growth.
"Last week we launched our No Place Like Home campaign which is a domestic initiative so we are, by no means, putting our eggs in one basket."
In December, spending for the coastal Bay of Plenty region from Waihi Beach to Whakatane increased 5 per cent to $118m, an eight-year high for the region.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said the summer season was always the region's most successful, but with an increase in cruise and holiday-makers during the Christmas break, the new result was even better than expected.
"January is historically our top month for visitor spending, so to reach an all-new record a month early bodes well for 2017. We're thrilled with the results, which put our goal of becoming a billion-dollar region firmly within our reach."
Top 10 regional tourism organisations in tourist spending for 2016
Auckland - $7514m
Christchurch - $2175m
Queenstown - $2109m
Wellington - $2033m
Waikato - $1385m
Northland - $1037m
Bay of Plenty - $802m
Rotorua - $769m
South Canterbury - $709m
Dunedin - $694m
Tourism spend in the Bay of Plenty
2016 - $802m
2015 - $733m
2014 - $663m
2013 - $594m
2012 - $557m
For more articles from this region, go to Bay of Plenty Times