A decline in domestic travel was behind a slight drop in Northland visitor numbers in May, according to a tourism manager.

Northland guest nights dropped 1.5 per cent this May on last to 89,000, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Northland Inc's general manager of regional promotions and tourism, Paul Davis, said the drop reflected lower levels of domestic accommodation activity throughout the country.

Domestic activity was traditionally high in Northland.

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Whangarei experienced the largest drop in guest nights within Northland, reflecting a drop in domestic business travel, said Mr Davis. Whangarei guest nights were bringing down the Northland regional average while Far North nights were increasing, based on continuing international visitor leisure growth.

Northland was working to attract more visitors in the shoulder seasons by expanding its tourism footprint across the region with developments such as Te Kongahu, the new Waitangi museum, said Mr Davis. Other developments included the Hundertwasser Art Centre and Wairau Maori Art (HAC) Gallery in Whangarei, the opening of the Tai Tokerau Queenstown Resort College tourism training facility in Paihia, and the Twin Coast Discovery Highways and byways.

Statistics NZ business indicators senior manager Neil Kelly said international guest nights continued to rise strongly this May on last nationwide, but were offset by a drop in domestic guest nights. May last year had been a record May for domestic and total guest nights.

Domestic guest nights were down 6.4 per cent this May compared to last, with motels and hotels accounting for most of the fall. International guest nights were up 9.7 per cent, with gains for stays at both hotels and motels. Overall, total national guest nights for May 2016 were down just 0.4 per cent on May 2015.

North Island guest nights were down 1.2 per cent, while South Island guest nights were up 1 per cent.