More than 40 per cent of cruise ship passengers who pass through Tauranga's unique wharfside information service are electing to stick around the Western Bay of Plenty - unlocking the potential for a big slice of this season's projected $47 million Bay-wide spend by passengers and crew.
i-Port is the convenient information hub for the "free and independent" cruise ship passengers who have not decided what to do until after their ship had docked.
"They are not being herded like cattle. They have time to make their decisions," Tourism Bay of Plenty's cruise manager Tania Lindsey said on the merits of the i-Port which opened two months ago.
Although it was still too early in the current cruise ship season to make predictions about how many passengers would stick around the Western Bay, 58 per cent of people who used the information hub in the 2011-12 season chose Rotorua and 42 per cent stayed local.
"My goal is to lift it to 50 per cent local and 50 per cent Rotorua."
The importance to at least keep the same proportion of passengers in the Western Bay was underlined by the projected $47 million contribution to the region's economy from cruise ships this season.
The higher earnings were being driven by much larger capacity ships rather than more arrivals, and was nearly 60 per cent above last season's $30 million contribution.
Last season's achievements for the passenger information hub were achieved despite a smaller port-a-com facility that created bottlenecks.
About a third of passengers did not need to use the i-Port because they were on pre-booked tours. Ten per cent of the rest usually opted to remain on board ship for the day, leaving 56 per cent of passengers using the i-Port to guide their decision making on what to do for the day.
Tourism BoP did not have access to the pre-booked tour package information.
She was pleased with how the i-Port had operated so far this cruise ship season. Its eight processing stations had not been troubled by the bottlenecks that occurred with the former five-station port-a-com.
i-Port was serviced by up to 22 staff split into three teams. The ambassadors went on board ship to provide local information to passengers. Another team assisted passengers in the i-Port on their options and the third filled in the documentation and pointed people towards the tour operators.
'Passengers love it. It is the only port in New Zealand to welcome people to the area and have all the information in one place next to the ship."
Tourism BoP chief executive Rhys Arrowsmith said the number of local package operators had more than doubled from 11 last season to 26 now.
"The local offering is getting stronger."
The next really busy time for i-Port staff happens with the double visits on consecutive days later this month. The Silver Shadow and Sea Princess were due to berth on January 20 and the Seabourn Odyssey and Oosterdam on January 21.
In the meantime, the Seven Seas Voyager was due to arrive today, the Dawn Princess on January 15 and the Silver Shadow on January 17.
Cruise ship arrivals to the Port of Tauranga had increased from 16 to 84 in six years.