One of the below-the-radar categories for tourism across the country is the bed and breakfast and home stay market, which tourism experts suggest could account for significantly more than the officially monitored visitor bed nights. And new online apps and sites are allowing increasing numbers to access private household accommodation.

In Rotorua, with tourism numbers trending up again, the B&B sector is small but strong, says the Bed & Breakfast Association New Zealand.

"If you take Rotorua generally across the accommodation sector, I think visitor numbers are up over the last season," said Mick O'Mahony, past president of the association's Rotorua branch, who runs the Mokoia Downs Estate B&B with his wife Teresa.

"Overall we would say that last season was a better one for us, and based on projected data from Tourism New Zealand, our members are also looking forward to another good season from spring onwards for 2014-15."

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According to the association's most recent national survey, 30 per cent of its members advised that both bookings and income had increased by up to 25 per cent more than expected for the peak season ending March 2014, and 30 per cent advised they expected their bookings for the current winter season to increase by up to 25 per cent.

Average tourism numbers in Rotorua are around 3.1 million annually, according to Destination Rotorua. The most recent figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment put the tourism spend at $502 million for Rotorua, $339 million for Taupo, and $416 million for Tauranga.

The ministry has, over the past couple of years, taken over the role of estimating tourism revenues as the industry moves away from the previous method of basing tourism figures on bed night data captured from hotels, motels, backpackers and holiday camps.

"The B&B, homestay and bach market is very hard to measure, but you know it exists," said Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Rhys Arrowsmith.

He noted that in 2009, when tourism arrivals were still being measured on the traditional bed nights basis, according to some estimates only 25-30 per cent of visitor stays were being recorded in the official figures for the region. The ministry now uses a mix of data to estimate tourism spend, including extrapolation from Eftpos and credit card receipts, but the total market was still difficult to estimate, he said.

"On the one hand you've got the B&Bs and home stays that do it pretty professionally and are Qualmark assessed," said Mr O'Mahony.

"But there are quite a significant number of places offering accommodation that might be under the radar or more amateur operations and we don't have data on them and how they're doing."

National B&B Association secretary Fiona Rollings said that based on the drop in the number of places advertising, B&B numbers appeared to be declining, while inbound tour operators had advised the association they were experiencing an increase in demand for B&Bs.

One key reason the home stay/B&B sector is evolving has been the impact of mobile and online applications.

"There's all sorts of mobile phone things popping up that allow you to find local accommodation," said Mr Arrowsmith.

One online service has been started by Rotorua's Julia Charity, whose home stay network Look After Me offers access to homeowners with accommodation.

"Look After Me appeals to the emerging baby boomer travel market, as over 94 per cent of our homeowners are aged over 50," she said, adding that interest-based accommodation was the fastest growing area of the business.