Tourism earned Northland $932 million for the year to May, with an industry leader saying the sector will soon be worth $1 billion a year to the region.

The latest Monthly Regional Tourism Estimates released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment show tourism spending for Northland is estimated to be $932 million for 12 months to the end of May, up 6 per cent compared with the year to May 2015.

Tourism Industry Association New Zealand board member Jeroen Jongejans, the owner of Dive! Tutukaka, said the spending was a reward for the efforts put in to promoting the region to markets around the world.

Mr Jongejans said that if the growth in tourism continued as expected, it wouldn't be too long before the sector was worth $1 billion a year to the region - second only to pastoral farming.


"It reflects our tourism strategy, which nationally is for the sector to be worth about $42 billion by 2025. It's exciting that tourism is contributing so much to Northland and that we are seen as a very good, safe destination," he said.

While the British pound had fallen since last month's Brexit vote, Mr Jongejans said growth in visitor numbers from China and the United States would help Northland's tourism industry thrive.

"You have American Airlines and United bringing in more planes from the US and Air NZ has opened up new flights direct to Houston [Texas] and those are bringing in more people. The China market, meanwhile, is growing massively so it's looking good for our industry here to continue to grow."

But, Mr Jongejans said, in order to take full advantage of the opportunities tourism offered, more needed to be spent on infrastructure in the region to help tourist get about.

Also needed was spending on attractions to get visitors here, and keep them longer.

"The Hundertwasser centre will be a good start, but we also need more. And Whangarei particularly needs a four or five-star hotel as a minimum."

One area that was growing every year was the cruise ship industry.

Fifty-four cruise ships visited the Bay of Islands last summer, injecting $28.7 million into Northland's economy.


Mr Jongejans said more cruise ships would be coming every year and plans to get cruise ships to berth at Whangarei would also help.