Auckland's participation in a bumper sea-cruising season is off to a lucrative start after visits from three ships on successive days poured thousands of tourists into city streets and shops.
As well as looking forward to hosting 25 per cent more ship visits this summer, tour operators say international passengers appear to be spending more than last season, when the economic downturn made for a penny-pinching time ashore.
ID Tours managing director Jeremy Palmer said yesterday that about half of more than 5000 passengers on the three cruise ships which called at Auckland between Friday and Sunday took a multitude of organised tours, to destinations ranging from Waitomo Caves to the Muriwai gannet colony.
"Last season was dire - the ships were full but people weren't spending," he said. "This time we have got away with a hiss and a roar."
The largest ship in port in recent days, the 2670-berth Sapphire Princess, called on Sunday on the heels of the Sun Princess and Oriana.
Although tour operators will have to wait a fortnight for the next visit, the return of the Sun Princess from other New Zealand ports, ISS-McKay cruise services manager Douglas Colaco said the industry was gearing up for 70 ship calls this season compared with 58 last summer.
These are bringing about 138,200 passengers compared with 110,000 last summer, a more than 25 per cent increase.
Cruise New Zealand says next summer (2011/12) will bring almost 200,000 passengers to our shores, pumping an estimated $363 million into the economy, up from $200 million last season.
But Mr Palmer said that although he believed tour operators had enough attractions to offer the visitors, the boom was highlighting the inadequacy of Auckland's port facilities to cope with them in the absence of a dedicated terminal.
He said Sunday's visit of the Sapphire Princess left 25 coaches lining up for six loading spaces at Princes Wharf, where they also had to contend with general traffic.
"It took us four hours to get all the morning tours away."
Mr Palmer said Queens Wharf as the standby passenger terminal offered far more room and was therefore more suitable logistically, if only the century-old Shed 10 used for customs clearance "were acceptable aesthetically".
Although the former Auckland Regional Council agreed to spend $4 million upgrading Shed 10 while the Government builds a temporary structure nearby for a Rugby World Cup party zone, he said the cruise industry was still waiting to hear what that would entail.