Cruise passengers add vital international vibe

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If you missed the spectacular sight of the first cruise ships of the season arriving and departing from Tauranga Harbour recently, don’t worry – there’s plenty more on the way!

Cruise ships have always been a core component of the summer vibe at Mount Maunganui and across the Coastal Bay of Plenty. The Port of Tauranga is a popular stop on many global voyage itineraries, which means passengers of all nationalities will be regularly disembarking from a variety of vessels over the next few months to explore near and far.

Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Oscar Nathan says it’s been rewarding seeing residents and businesses getting excited about the return of cruise ships and their passengers this season.

“Absence definitely made the heart grow fonder while our international border was closed for a few years, due to Covid. The flow of nationalities and the different accents that we hear each time these ships dock essentially disappeared during that time.”

“The return of cruise is a real invigorator for our region and the way that these passengers and crew explore while they’re onshore, even though it’s only for a short time – it generates essential revenue for a whole range of interconnected visitor sector businesses,” he says.

The most recent national data shows that retailers reap the biggest benefit from onshore cruise visitor spending, followed by food and beverage providers, arts and recreation operators, and travel and tour services.

“Some cruise passengers will organise their onshore excursions well before their ship docks here and will get straight onto a tour bus, but others like to be more spontaneous and are keen to consider all the options once they arrive,” Nathan says.

“That’s why our pop-up iPORT visitor centre, volunteer ambassadors, and local tour operators add so much value. It’s their job to ensure these disembarking passengers make the best of their time while they’re here – whether they want to experience nearby shops and attractions or if they want to head further afield.”

Recent changes to national data policies have made it difficult to calculate the economic contribution cruise made to the region last season, as well as the figures we can expect this season.

However, previous data shows cruise contributed $74 million to the Coastal Bay of Plenty economy during the 2019/2020 season, which was interrupted by Covid restrictions. The season before that (2018/19) saw cruise contribute more than $89 million to our local economy.

“We’re expecting the 2023/24 season will bring approximately 112 cruise ships and 290,000 passengers and crew into our region,” says Nathan.

“This won’t be a record number, but it will be very close. Cruise is enjoying an unprecedented resurgence around the world, now that all the borders are open, and New Zealand is right up there as a top destination.”

Tourism Bay of Plenty does a lot of capability building with tour operators before each season starts, to ensure they each meet New Zealand’s stringent Qualmark standards to enable them to service cruise passengers.

“The Coastal Bay of Plenty region offers a variety of excellent eco-tours, foodie options, and Māori cultural experiences, which are all popular with cruise passengers,” Nathan says.

Those who can’t get on board to experience one of these magnificent vessels can still be part of the adventure by heading to Pilot Bay | Waikorire to farewell the ships as they depart.

“I’d invite people to check the cruise schedule on our website and plan accordingly,” says Nathan.

“These farewells are a local tradition and they’re a big hit with the departing cruise ship passengers too.”

See bayofplentynz.com/cruise

Related: Here comes the sun, and I say … it’s alright

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