Tourism New Zealand is launching its annual campaign three months early, switching its focus to off-peak promotions as visitor numbers swell over summer.
The agency's spending on marketing New Zealand in spring and autumn has jumped from $8 million to nearly $60 million as it tried to spread the visitor load.
However one tourism analyst warned that some parts of the country may not be able to cope with the year-round influx.
The tourism body's new 100 percent Pure campaign will be launched on 1 July, aimed at smoothing the peaks and troughs in tourism as visitor numbers are set to hit a record high of 3 million for the year.
It said it had boosted spending on promoting the shoulder months from 12 percent of its total budget last year to 80 percent this year because hotels in many places had become so crowded last summer, the country risked losing tourists elsewhere.
Marketing director Andrew Fraser said investment in accommodation had not kept up with the growth in tourists.
"Auckland was pretty much full and similarly Queenstown but if we actually look nationally at accommodation figures for hotels and resorts, which a lot of our mid to long-haul tourists will be using, it was up over 90 percent occupancy level nationally, which starts to say that actually in that peak period of February we are pretty much starting to get full," he said.
Seasonality problem for Northland
Kataia-based Garth Petricevich, who runs bus loads of tourists around Northland, welcomed the new campaign.
He said during peak season from September to March, he filled his buses with local and international visitors.
"Coming up to Christmas it's mainly New Zealanders, once the New Zealanders go back to work you start getting the foreigners, and then after the schools go back you tend to get a lot of Europeans.
"Starting to see a lot more Chinese come through, they used to come through in bus groups and now they're actually coming through as individuals. There's a lot of Germans coming north, the Germans seem to love it up here."
Mr Petricevich said at the height of the season his 40-year old family business took 350 tourists a day to Cape Reinga alone.
"We just put on as many buses as we have to. That's the only time of the year you can make your money so you have to make your money," he said.
Yesterday, on a typical winter day, he said just 20 people were booked on the bus to the northern tip of the country.
Seasonality has been a big problem for Northland's $575 million tourism industry where 60 percent peak occupancy levels in January slump to 25 percent in the low season.
Mr Petricevich said any push to lure visitors off-peak would be good for his 40-year-old family business and good for Kaitaia.
"The only industries really we have up here are timber and farming and both of them aren't doing that great at the moment. So, I mean tourism, is the next one for us and it really needs to be promoted in Northland, yeah," he said.
Off-peak promotion must be properly managed
The head of AUT's New Zealand Tourism Research Institute Simon Milne said attracting off-peak visitors was the right move but it needed to be properly managed.
Mr Milne said some places were already struggling with tourism-related problems like freedom camping and car accidents involving foreign tourists.
"We're trying to get the Chinese market to become higher yield and more focussed on the free and independent travel dimension. That's great but it does mean that we're encouraging these visitors to get out in rental cars, go into areas that have not had a lot of exposure to these markets in the past," he said.
Mr Milne said overcrowding in summer threw up a much bigger issue for the country.
"The fact that you're saying that we need to spread tourism into the shoulder season is partly driven by the fact that during our peak season now we are reaching over capacity and what we have to realise is that over time we will continue to grow in numbers and we will have to manage those numbers carefully.
"We'll have to manage how we cope with those numbers as a country."
Tourism New Zealand said parts of the industry had growing pains but it had strategies in place to tackle the issues.