New Zealand guest nights rose 4 per cent in December from a year earlier as the number of international visitors continued to rise and many traveled to the South Island.

Total guest nights increased to 4.14 million in December from 3.98 million a year earlier, Statistics New Zealand said. Of that, international guest nights rose 6.2 per cent to 1.93 million, outpacing a 2.1 per cent gain in domestic accommodation stays to 2.22 million.

North Island stays rose 2.1 per cent to 2.37 million and South Island guest nights gained 6.5 per cent to 1.77 million. On the South Island, international guest nights lifted 8.3 per cent to 1 million while domestic guest nights were up 4.2 per cent to 767,000. On the North Island, however, international guest nights lifted 4 per cent to 921,000 while domestic guest nights were up 1 per cent to 1.45 million.

"South Island growth was driven by more international guest nights being spent in Canterbury, Otago, and Southland regions than in December 2016. Canterbury guest nights had been dampened in December 2016 following the Kaikōura earthquakes in November," said accommodation statistics manager Melissa McKenzie.

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Ten of 12 regions reported an increase in guest nights. The largest increases were in Canterbury, where guest nights lifted 12 per cent on the year to 572,000 and Otago, where they were up 4.8 per cent to 632,000. Auckland was unchanged from the prior year while Nelson, Marlborough Tasman slipped 0.2 per cent.

New Zealand has been enjoying a booming tourism sector in recent years as low airfares made it easier for visitors to travel to the remote South Pacific destination.

The occupancy rate across accommodation types lifted to 50.4 per cent in December, the highest since March, and up from 49.2 per cent a year earlier.

Today's figures show hotel guest nights, typically favoured by foreign visitors, rose 5.3 per cent to 1.3 million in December from a year earlier, with international stays up 7.4 per cent to 699,000. Hotel occupancy was 70.5 per cent in the month, compared to 69.2 per cent a year earlier.

Motel stays increased 0.8 per cent to 1.17 million, with a 7.8 per cent gain from international visitors to 475,000 offsetting a 3.5 per cent decline in domestic guest nights to 691,000. Motel occupancy was 62.1 per cent versus 62.5 per cent in December 2016.

Backpacker guest nights rose 1 per cent to 512,000 with an occupancy rate at 50.8 per cent compared to 50.3 per cent a year earlier, while holiday park stays gained 7.2 per cent to 1.16 million at an occupancy rate of 31.1 per cent, up from 29 per cent.