Kiwis are flocking into the Bay of Plenty as the region capitalises on strong tourism figures - and Chinese visitors are also arriving in increasing numbers.

Statistics New Zealand figures show domestic visitor nights in the Bay rose 11 per cent in February compared to last February, and 6 per cent year-on-year.

Domestic and international tourism numbers grew 1.8 per cent in the last 12 months to more than 425,000, staying a combined 1.1 million nights in the area.

The number of tourists was likely to be even higher, as visitors also stayed in non-commercial accommodation - such as with family or friends, or a private bed and breakfast - and were unable to be counted.


Bay of Plenty Tourism head of marketing Kristin Dunne said she was pleased with the growth shown in the figures, particularly as the actual tourist numbers were likely to be even higher.

"Any indicator that's showing growth is a positive one," she said.

Year-on-year, tourist numbers from all of New Zealand's top 10 international markets increased more than 5 per cent. The largest of these was a 27 per cent increase in tourists from China, followed by 21 per cent growth from Korea and 19 per cent from India.

According to Tourism New Zealand, the most common holiday length for Chinese visitors is between one and four days, with almost half visiting on a group tour.

Ms Dunne said set tours made it difficult to attract Chinese tourists on their first visit but a new wave of Chinese travellers were coming in increasing numbers.

"There are a lot more free, independent travellers who are exploring off the major route. While they might come on a short visit the first time, that's very much a scoping visit and they'll return for a longer stay," she said. "We're certainly targeting those free, independent travellers who aren't just wanting to fly in, [go on a] mass tour and leave again. That culture is changing a lot."

Tourism figures show 31 per cent of Chinese arrivals are independent travellers, up from 23 per cent last year.

The Tourism Industry Association said although international tourism was experiencing massive success at the moment, the value of domestic travel was "often overlooked".

Chief executive Chris Roberts said domestic tourism was worth $18.1 billion last year - significantly more than the $11.8 billion international market.

Mr Roberts said New Zealanders' strong summer holiday tradition was great for the industry, but encouraging travel outside of those months was a "major goal" for the tourism industry.

"There's no silver bullet for encouraging domestic tourism. [The challenge is] how do we get that discretionary dollar spent on having a great weekend away, as opposed to maybe buying a TV for the bedroom," Mr Roberts said.

He said most people were only prepared to travel three hours by car, so encouraging air travel was crucial to opening up more of the country to travellers.