Global tourism expert Professor Terry Stevens says the Bay of Plenty's tourist industry needs to focus more on providing a joined-up customer experience and less on specific geographies.
Speaking in Rotorua, where he is spending a week meeting with local and regional tourism stakeholders, Professor Stevens said there was very significant potential in the area.
"But there's a need to respond to the way in which markets are changing globally," said professor Stevens, who was visiting New Zealand for the first time.
"And that will need an approach that is rather more agile, more market-focused and a little bit smarter.
"In the very competitive tourism world, destinations need to be more focused, more innovative and better managed."
Professor Stevens emphasised that travellers did not care about the political and geographic jurisdictions of the areas they visited. They wanted a seamless, joined-up great experience and things that related to what they cared about, he said. Regions needed to think of themselves as a repository of appealing experiences rather than a single geographic destination.
"The tourism industry generally is like opening a jigsaw box where all the pieces are there, but somebody has removed the picture on the front to show how it should all come together."
He added that other global destinations "would rip their arm off" to have the Bay's core assets.
"But for a visitor it's all got to stick together. If I come to Rotorua for mountain biking, I only put my ass in the saddle for five hours a day. What are you going to do with me for the other 19 hours? And that's where the destination has got to come together."
Destination Rotorua chief executive Mark Rawson said professor Stevens was challenging the local industry on what a destination was.
"He puts a large amount of emphasis on placing the visitor or customer at the centre of everything, whereas we tend to sometimes be driven by our political or business boundaries," he said. "We need to listen to and work with what our visitor see as the destination, because they don't have a clue - for example - where Rotorua starts and Tauranga stops."
Professor Stevens' visit will include experiencing a range of local tourist activities, and meetings with local public and private stakeholders, including tourist organisations from Tauranga, Taupo and Eastern Bay.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said getting an internationally recognised expert to look at the city's plan as a natural hot springs and spa destination was important.
"This is a perfect time to reconsider our approach within the context of global best practice and to identify if there are things missing or we can be doing better."
Professor Terry Stevens:
* International tourism consultant for more than 30 years.
* Has worked in 50-plus countries.
* Clients have included UN World Tourism Organisation, UNESCO and the World Bank as well as national, regional and local tourism organisations.