Tourism in Canterbury is on the rise and has bounced back to pre-earthquake levels, but damaged parts of the region mean some international visitors are bypassing Christchurch.

Visitors spent almost 15 million nights in Canterbury guest accommodation last year, with a boost in both overseas and Kiwi tourists.

Statistics New Zealand recorded 4,943,000 guest nights in Canterbury last year, an annual increase of six per cent and the most since 2010.

Tourism has been rising in all parts of the region since being hard hit by the earthquakes. The Mackenzie, Hurunui and Timaru districts all recorded bigger increases than Christchurch.

The figures include guests in hotels, motels, backpackers, and campgrounds but not in private accommodation or sleeping on cruise ships or in campervans, also growing sectors.

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said domestic tourism had grown strongly and international numbers were less strong but were “picking back up”. However many overseas tourists were still bypassing Christchurch, he said.

“We are certainly ahead of where we were, but we’ve only regained some of the international tourism we lost. There’s still a bit of reluctance to come and visit Christchurch.

“We haven’t had a convention centre for five years and that makes the winter season quite bleak. The convention market usually fills in those quiet months.”

He said the completed venue would boost Christchurch’s visitor guest nights by 7 per cent a year. This would translate to about another 350,000 room nights annually.

Extra flights from China and the re-introduction of flights to Auckland from United and American Airlines this year would bring in more tourists, and Christchurch wanted to capitalise on that, he said.

The Tourism Industry Association’s Canterbury hotel sector chairman, Bruce Garrett, said while guest nights were rising many visitors were not staying in Christchurch long.

“Tourist numbers are gradually coming back, and there’s massive growth out of China in particular.”

Cheaper air travel and the low NZ dollar meant overseas visitors had more cash to spend. But package tour travel groups were “still reluctant to recommend Christchurch as a two or three night stop.”

Garrett said while the region needed more hotel capacity in the summer peak months, winter trade needed to pick up before new hotels would go up.

“Until we can solve the low season slump, it’s difficult to make a business case for it.”