Northland missed out on a tourism support package, despite social development advice, a briefing obtained by RNZ shows.
The government announced a $200 million Tourism Communities Plan in May last year.
It focused on five South Island areas: Fiordland, South Westland, Queenstown, Mackenzie and Kaikōura.
But an aide-memoire to Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni on 1 April 2021, released under the Official Information Act, shows the Ministry of Social Development recommended including Northland.
This was "due to deprivation, employment potential, and to enable Northland tourism operators to stay in business and not fall further behind".
It said the region's tourism ventures needed to catch up with other parts of the country before international tourism returned.
"Regional public service leads are concerned about the compounding impact that loss of tourism revenue and employment is having on deprivation."
But the government chose to only focus on the South Island areas.
At the time, Tourism Minister Stuart Nash announced "12 key points" to the Tourism Communities Plan.
"Half are focused on the most vulnerable South Island regions: Fiordland, South Westland, Queenstown Lakes, Mackenzie District and Kaikōura. The remaining six are nationwide initiatives."
The support for these five areas has included psychological and social wellbeing support and training, grants for expert advice on planning and decision-making, and a $49m kick-start fund for suspended businesses to re-open for the return of international visitors.
Nash told RNZ today that Cabinet had used "strict" funding criteria.
International visitors needed to make up more than 50 percent of tourism spending pre-Covid-19, and tourism had to make up more than 10 percent of the area's spending overall, so Te Tai Tokerau didn't meet the threshold, Nash said.
The region had benefited more from domestic travellers during the pandemic than other parts of the country, but he acknowledged the Auckland lockdown had a "significant impact" in the second half of last year, he said.
"I was very comfortable with the money that we had invested into Northland in specific tourism projects, and also support for Northland tourism ventures. Now that was before the Auckland lockdown, I must say, and I just reiterate that when we locked down Auckland due to the Delta outbreak there that did have a significant impact on Northland."
The region had benefited from other tourism allocations in the Provincial Growth Fund and the government's previous $400m tourism recovery package in 2020, he said.