The number of freedom campers in New Zealand is growing strongly and while they spend $530 million a year their daily spending is half that of average visitors.
Those visitors who did some freedom camping in New Zealand has risen, from 60,000 in the year ended 2015 to around 110,000 in the year ended 2017. This followed a period of moderate growth from around 20,000 visitors, from 2005 to 2015, according to Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment data released today.
Total estimated spending by visitors who did some freedom camping has also increased significantly in this period, from $290m in 2015 to $530m last year.
Some behaviour of freedom campers such as going to the toilet in the street and littering parking areas has led to bans in some areas.
There has also been opposition to them by some who think New Zealand should only target higher spending visitors.
On average, visitors who do some freedom camping spend a lot less per day than all visitors.
Last year, visitors who did some freedom camping spent, on average, less than half as much per day ($90) compared with all visitors ($190).
While the survey data did not break this down, the report says this could be due to freedom campers not spending much on accommodation.
They do however, spend more in total because they stay for longer.
The general trend has seen a very slight increase since the early 2000s, up to around $4700 per visitor in 2017, however this was most likely caused by inflation, the report says.
The average length of stay for visitors who did some freedom camping was 51 days in 2017, three times longer than the average of all other visitors (17 days).
Even though the past 10 years has shown a slight decline in the average length of stay for all visitors (down from 19 to 17 days), visitors who did some freedom camping are staying even longer (up from 35 to 51 days).
German visitors were nearly three times as likely to do some freedom camping in New Zealand than any other of the other top visitor markets.
Over the past two years, 17 per cent of German visitors (16,000 per year) did some freedom camping while in New Zealand. Visitors from Britain were the next highest with 6 per cent.
By total numbers, the market with the highest number overall was Australia, our biggest overall source of tourists.
Of the total number of visitors who did some freedom camping, Australian visitors made up 25 per cent of these - an average of 28,000 per year.
Freedom campers travel more widely around the country, visiting around double the amount of regions that total international visitors did, which fits with tourism bosses' aims to get more tourists out of sometimes congested hotspots.
In the year ended 2017, people who did some freedom camping visited 6.8 regions on average, with all visitors only visiting 3.1 on average.
MBIE says the International Visitor Survey defines freedom campers as those staying at a place that is not an official camp site, in a tent, caravan, campervan/motorhome.
Statistics on freedom campers can vary significantly from year to year MBIE says because only around 3 per cent of all international visitors have done some freedom camping and the International Visitor Survey samples only a small proportion of all international visitors.
The average sample size over the past five years is around 370 for visitors who did any freedom camping and 70 for visitors who mainly freedom camped.