Rotorua's mayor Steve Chadwick says a Tourism NZ campaign centred on cities is, in her view, "not helping the regions".
On Monday, Chadwick said she had raised "the impact on the regions of [the City Breaks] campaign" with Tourism Minister Stuart Nash.
"We need all the help we can get and need a dispersed domestic visitor economy," she said.
However, in her view, the City Breaks campaign was "not helping the regions".
The campaign, which promoted "featured New Zealand's five cities specifically" ran from October 21 to November 15 last year and January 18 to February 28 this year, according to Tourism NZ.
"It remains crucial for Rotorua to continue working in partnership with Tourism NZ ... to ensure we are well-positioned to make the most of opportunities both now and in future."
In response, Tourism NZ said places such as Rotorua were having a "tough time" but its mandate is to grow overall domestic tourism in New Zealand. However, the city featured prominently in a new campaign aimed at families.
Chadwick's comments echo those made in a council committee meeting earlier in the month when Rotorua Economic Development (Destination Rotorua) interim chief executive Andrew Wilson said the best thing Tourism NZ could do was "probably stop marketing".
He later told Local Democracy Reporting the comments, made at a Rotorua Lakes Council Operations and Monitoring Committee meeting on March 4, were "tongue in cheek".
Wilson had been responding to a question from Chadwick at the meeting about what he thought of Tourism New Zealand's City Breaks campaign.
"To be perfectly blunt, the best thing they could do is probably stop marketing," Wilson said.
"It hasn't necessarily done us any favours."
He did not believe it had increased domestic visitation "at all".
"[Tourism NZ] would give you a contra view but that's certainly where we sit."
Rotorua Economic Development was also trialling an i-Site central call centre to investigate whether it could generate revenue, Wilson said.
"Potentially, Tourism New Zealand hasn't recognised the asset they've got [with] the i-Site network and I don't know if they've necessarily done as good a job as they could have pushing people towards that, through that channel," he said in the meeting.
Wilson also said funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP) had been useful in some ways, such as for the creation of the as-yet-unreleased Rotorua destination management plan.
"On the flip side, it has delivered a lot of funding to a lot of other regional tourism organisations around the country who are now all frantically advertising for domestic visitors.
"It has made it a pretty cluttered marketplace."
Wilson, and Destination Rotorua chairman John McRae, were at the meeting to present a quarterly update on the council-controlled organisation.
However, speaking to Local Democracy Reporting on Monday this week, Wilson said his comments were "definitely, sort of, tongue-in-cheek".
"[Tourism NZ] have got to go and tell people to go some places, I guess the tongue-in-cheek-ness was that we're not part of that campaign so that was the kind of throw-away answer I gave there."
He said Tourism NZ had been "really really helpful" in trying to extend New Zealanders' "propensity to go and travel and try new things".
"The challenge for us as a traditional tourism destination is to make sure we're still reflecting those new things that people may have not tried when they've been here in the past," he said.
"There's a bunch of new campaigns coming up over the next while which will have Rotorua and the types of assets we've got more front and centre. They're continuing to do different things with their marketing which is good, and good for us.
"We're really reliant on the work Tourism NZ does. Looking ahead to next year and hopefully borders reopening, we really want to be working really closely with them."
Asked what Tourism NZ could do better to help Rotorua, Wilson said: "We're all asking for more air time. Tourism NZ have got a mandate, they're there to not market a specific destination [but] to talk about [creating] a desire for people to get out and experience, so they generally deal with themes."
He said one of those themes coming up was centred on the school holidays and families which often served Rotorua well.
"We're looking forward to that campaign coming on-stream."
However, he said different weighting for areas such as Rotorua or Queenstown, which relied more heavily on tourism for their economies, in Tourism NZ's marketing strategy "could be a conversation".
He said i-Site infrastructure could provide an online offering that helped prospective visitors book and gather information on destinations.
Currently, those functions were performed by the likes of overseas companies Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor, but i-Site could be a local version of that, he said.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said it was difficult to measure Tourism NZ's impact in the Covid era because of a "lack of comparative data".
"The marketplace has completely changed. The national data used to track and measure visitor spend has also recently changed."
She said tourism operators were feeling the impacts of Covid-19 differently, with businesses previously focused on the international and cruise markets hit particularly hard.
"In contrast, between July and October 2020 manuhiri (visitors) spent more compared to the same months in 2019 so some domestic-focused tourism businesses have fared well."
She said MBIE's STAPP funding had been "absolutely invaluable".
"Continuation of that additional funding in 2021/22 is critical to our region's rebuild."
She said targeted marketing for the Bay of Plenty meant her organisation "largely avoid the clutter".
Tourism New Zealand interim chief executive Rene de Monchy said regions that previously welcomed a high proportion of international visitors were having a "tough time".
"We consider our mandate to grow overall domestic tourism in New Zealand with this firmly in mind."
He said Tourism New Zealand was working with Rotorua organisations to support them in their activities, including holding workshops to identify further opportunities to showcase Rotorua to Kiwis.
Tourism NZ had included Rotorua in "many different components" of the overarching Do Something New New Zealand campaign, which launched in May 2020.
That included its summer campaign and the Do Something New New Zealand song released last year.
"The region is featured prominently in the current families campaign. Rotorua has also featured in New Zealand's travel media via Tourism New Zealand partnerships with major publishers and broadcasters."
The City Breaks campaign ran alongside summer activity and featured New Zealand's five cities specifically, he said.
On Tuesday, an MBIE spokeswoman said the Ministry was encouraging collaboration to reduce competition between neighbouring regions by providing regional events funding to regional "groupings".
Destination Rotorua, along with its Taupō, Ruapehu, and Waikato equivalents - as the "Thermal Explorer Highway group"- received $3.75m from the fund, she said.
"Regions will decide how they will spend their investment and are encouraged to work together to generate travel without competing against each other."
Destination Rotorua received $1m through the STAPP for destination management, domestic marketing and building industry capability, she said.
I-Site board chairwoman Rebecca Ingram said there was "significant value" in the i-Site network and Rotorua was playing a "central role" in its operation.
"Kiwis can book direct on the i-Site website since December, and it's been promoted as a booking tool in the City Breaks and summer campaign."
She said the summer campaign partnership with i-Site generated a 310 per cent increase in traffic to the website.