Western Bay tourism ventures are poised to take advantage of a swell of Chinese tourists expected to visit New Zealand.
The fast growing Chinese tourism market is set to become one of New Zealand tourism's biggest earners, overtaking the American and British market by the middle of next year, according to a Ministry of Economic Development forecast.
The ministry estimates that in 2013, Chinese tourists will spend $604 million - steadily increasing to overtake the British and American markets, which will plateau at about $500 million from this year onwards.
And by 2014, the number of Chinese tourists are expected to exceed those from Britain and America.
Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Glenn Ormsby said China was an important market which the organisation was working to strengthen.
Recent initiatives included visiting Auckland-based inbound operators who work with the Chinese market.
The Western Bay was well placed to cater to the Chinese tourists' favoured activities of nature and outdoor tourism, he said.
"It's very much back to nature and that clean green eco experience.
"We have some very good stuff in the Bay of Plenty.
"We try and sell it very much as being part of an experience on their way through the Pacific Coastal highway, especially on their way to Rotorua where a lot of them go.
"We see it as a very good future market for us."
Tourism attractions top of the list for Chinese tourists included dolphin encounters, kiwifruit tours, Comvita, Waimarino Adventure Park, Spring Loaded Adventures and White Island.
Chinese tourists visiting New Zealand historically tended to travel in groups, but an increasing number were visiting as "free independent travellers" (FIT), which was well suited to the Western Bay due to a lack of hotel accommodation, Mr Ormsby said.
"The Singapore and Malaysia markets are very much part of that FIT group, they are not scared to get in the car and drive."
Comvita chief executive Brett Hewlett said the Chinese tourism market was key for Comvita, both in terms of visitors buying products to take back with them to China as gifts and as an opportunity to create new customers.
Comvita entered China in 2004 and now has over 400 retail outlets in more than 40 cities, so there was already a high level of brand awareness from Chinese tourists who then visited New Zealand, Mr Hewlett said.
"There is also the opportunity to demonstrate the country and our products really do look like the images that we use in our stores back in China.
"Tourists can then understand the reality that all our brand supporting elements do come from here and they can trust what they are buying."
Blair Anderson, of Waimarino, said the Chinese market was "just starting to get going" for the business, which was focusing on the Asian and Indian markets.
"We have noticed we are getting more clients. My general gut feeling would be that it is increasing.
"We are just trying to make sure our catering and our style is targeted towards the Chinese clients."
That meant more of a focus on rice based meals and less bread.
While Chinese tourists had not traditionally been adventurous, the trend towards independent travellers rather than tour groups had changed that, Mr Anderson said.
"We are seeing more of the younger person, who is on the internet and wanting more practical skills, and kayaking is a practical experience.
"We will still get the older ones on the bus tours, but we are seeing more families coming out from Asia.
"Quite often the kids have travelled over here, got an understanding of New Zealand, then they are bringing their family. That's where Tauranga is starting to win."
The growth of the Chinese market could be an opportunity for the Western Bay, Mr Anderson said.
Attractions likely to appeal to the market included easy gentle nature walks, glow worm tours and White Island tours.
Dave Rayner, of Spring Loaded Adventures, said the business had not noticed an upsurge in Chinese visitors but he welcomed any new market. "We have noticed in the last two years with the recession things have been quiet, so if any region starts travelling and spending their money, that's brilliant."
Mr Rayner said Chinese tour groups tended to take the Pyes Pa Rd to Rotorua, bypassing Spring Loaded's base near Te Puke.
He welcomed speculation there would be an increase in independent travellers, who were more likely to visit the park.
Blokart Heaven general manager Matt Beckett said Chinese visitors often came in large family groups rather than in the pairs which is more common in tourists from other countries.