The Bay's tourism sector looks set to reach its target of becoming a billion-dollar industry a decade ahead of schedule, new figures show.

The region, which encompasses both the Western Bay of Plenty/Tauranga and Kawerau-Whakatane districts saw a total visitor spend of $929 million for the 12 months to September.

The year before, $879m was spent by international and domestic guests.

The region also retained its position as a top performer with nearly 40 per cent growth in the past three years, according to the latest tourism spending statistics from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).


Tourism Bay of Plenty had aimed to reach the $1b target by 2030 but chief executive Kristin Dunne said current forecasting showed the region would reach the target almost a decade earlier, in 2019/2020.

"This is based on a forecast using the growth percentages of the last seven years. Things can change very quickly in the market, and the growth of the last three years has been extraordinary so we are predicting around 3-4 per cent growth annually.

"When the vision was set to be a billion-dollar industry, it was a doubling. Which seemed quite aggressive at the time but since then we have had three years of staggering growth."

"We have been able to market the region successfully to both New Zealanders and overseas visitors," she said.

"People come here for our natural beauty, and most of which is actually free. But when they come and stay, they stay for several days to take in everything.

The Bay retained its position as a popular spot for Kiwis with nearly 80 per cent ($730m) of the total year-to-date spend attributed to the domestic market, an increase of 2.9 per cent. International guest spend generated $199m during the year to September, up 17.7 per cent.

The cruise market, which is not counted in these figures, adds a further $39m to the local economy each year.

Ms Dunne confirmed that tourism operators and local businesses were feeling the positive effects of more visitors to the region.

"And because of increased numbers, particularly international guests, the winter months have been more buoyant," she said.

Ms Dunn said Tourism Bay of Plenty would set a new financial goal, but she was not sure what it would be.

Trevor Donaghy, president of Hospitality New Zealand's Bay of Plenty branch, described the data as fantastic news.

"When you talk to the accommodation guys, their occupancy rates are well up so they are obviously really happy," said Mr Donaghy. The announcement of a new hotel in Devonport Rd and a possible new hotel and conference centre in the central business district, were also positive for the sector, he said.

Mount Mainstreet manager Ingrid Fleming said her area had experienced its busiest winter ever. "Our beach-to-boutique brand is certainly getting the numbers down the street."

Mrs Fleming noted there were lots of passengers in town with the launch of this year's cruise season. She also believed having more people relocating to the Bay of Plenty was helping boost tourism numbers.

"It definitely makes a difference when you have people from overseas visiting family and friends," she said.

Hibiscus Surf School owner operator Rebecca Manning said the business had been growing every year since she took it over, 14 years ago.

"Every year is busier, but more fun."

Last year, she estimated it would have had roughly 2500 customers.

Dolphin Seafaris NZ managing director Cameron Fines said since he had taken over the business in the past five years, numbers had grown every year.

Mr Fines said changes in technology meant there were changes with how people were booking tours, and the reach it had to potential customers.

Mr Fines said his operation was one of the only places in the world were you could swim with dolphins in the wild.

"It's a very unique business."

The facts:

Tourism Bay of Plenty was placed ahead of Rotorua ($725m), Dunedin ($688m), and Nelson-Tasman ($576m). Main centres Auckland ($7.4b), Christchurch ($2.2b), and Wellington ($2b), retained their top three positions.

Tauranga brought in the largest proportion of Bay of Plenty's tourism revenue with $727m, followed by Whakatane District ($115m), Western Bay of Plenty District ($80m) and Kawerau District ($7m).