Campervanning is thriving in the Bay of Plenty, according to a new survey.
The Bay of Plenty region including Rotorua was visited by 59 per cent of international campervan tourists last year.
The survey measuring the value of campervan tourism revealed campervan travellers contributed more than $500 million a year to the national economy.
However, restrictions will remain in force in Tauranga during the holiday season, on self-contained motorhomes parking up overnight for free.
The council yesterday postponed until next year a decision on whether to relax restrictions or to continue allowing freedom camping on only five reserves.
The freedom camping provisions in the council's Street Use and Public Places bylaw have been challenged by a legal opinion from the Motor Caravan Association.
The council has received legal advice that it could maintain its current position but at the expense of not being able to fine freedom campers who use the city's other reserves. Infringement notices could be handed out only to people who broke the rules on the existing five approved sites.
The owner of Mount Maunganui's Golden Grove Holiday Park, Debra Sullivan, said her business attracted more domestic than international visitors. The overseas visitors tended to go to the beach-front holiday parks.
Bookings were "steady" this holiday season, with a few gaps around Christmas and the New Year, Ms Sullivan said.
"Having said that, we encourage mainly families, so we're still getting inquiries.
"I think a lot of people are looking at the weather maybe, and still putting their annual leave together."
Few of the bookings were for campervans as most were for domestic tourists staying in tents or caravans, Ms Sullivan said.
International visitors were more likely to turn up on the day without a booking and just stay for one night, she said.
Nationally, nearly 64,000 campervans were hired last year - giving accommodation and transport for 21,347 Kiwi holidaymakers and 116,776 international visitors.
Tourism Industry Association (TIA) chief executive Martin Snedden said the survey showed campers were supporting local jobs and businesses in the regions as well as main centres.
"Their spending is not limited to tourism operators but is spread across a wide range of businesses in the community."
Campervan tourists spent $547.2 million, with each domestic tourist spending an average of $1527 ($194 a night) during their travels and each international tourist $3208 ($204 a night) - including the cost of their van.
TIA advocacy manager Geoff Ensor said the number of campervan tourists had grown over the past five years.
"Certainly it's increased in popularity - I'd say over the last decade we've seen a significant increase in the numbers.
"It's reinforced the importance of this slice of the tourism market."
International campervan tourists tended to stay longer and spend more, Mr Ensor said.
Campervan travellers also spent most nights at paid sites - domestic (75 per cent), and international (89 per cent).
However, those taking the cheap "freedom camping" option have caused friction in some communities.
In February last year, a 59-year-old man was charged with attempted murder after smashing the lights and windows of a campervan parked overnight in a Golden Bay reserve and starting a fire in the cab. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.
In August 2011, the Government introduced the Freedom Camping Act to curb the desecration of non-designated campsite areas.
The act was a response to community concerns about pollution and waste left behind by freedom campers - passed under urgency to coincide with the Rugby World Cup.
Under the act, camping is prohibited in areas clearly identified with relevant signage. Breaches can result in instant $200 fines, or up to $10,000 for more serious offending.
Canterbury was the most-visited region by campervans last year, with 70 per cent visiting.
Nearly half of international respondents visited the North and South islands while one in five domestic respondents did the same.
Australians were the biggest customers, hiring 18,310 campervans last year, followed by "other Europe" (9510), United Kingdom (9090) and Germany (6660).
By the numbers
- 59 per cent of international campervan tourists visited Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty in 2011.
- 63,930 campervans hired.
- 15.5 days - average length of hire.
- 2.2 - average adults per campervan.
- $547.2 million spent by campervan visitors in 2011.
Campervan tourism worth $500m