Hard-hit Bay of Plenty businesses are eagerly awaiting the return of cruise ships, and their passengers.
But they say there is work to be done getting services running again.
Some say they lost up to 85 per cent of business when the borders shut. Cruise ship passengers would bring much-needed money.
Last week the Government announced the border would fully reopen at the end of July, instead of the originally planned October. This included cruise ships.
Tauranga gift shop Fancy That co-owner Bill Campbell said the return of cruise ships was "the best news we have had".
He said he had lost about 80 per cent of business when the borders had shut.
"For us in particular, cruise ships are our cream. We would love to have them back."
He did, however, worry services such as buses would need to be running again to bring passengers from the ships to the city.
V8 Trike Tours New Zealand co-owner Nigel Busbridge said business dropped by about 85 per cent when cruise ships stopped visiting.
He said returning passengers would reinvigorate the whole area.
"The Mount has turned into somewhat of a ghost town. That vibe will come back."
However, he knew it would be a struggle getting there, particularly in building up the offering there was before the pandemic hit.
Busbridge estimated it would take at least a year for that to happen.
Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Oscar Nathan said in the year before the pandemic, international visitors spent an estimated $250m in the Coastal Bay of Plenty region.
This represented about 22 per cent of total visitor spending that year.
While domestic visitation and spending had increased, they tended to spend money on different things, he said.
They were less inclined to use transport and travel services, to stay in certain types of commercial accommodation or pay for tourism activities.
"It's these types of businesses that have been hit hard."
Many cruise-focused companies closed or went into a long hibernation.
He said it was difficult to know how many tourism businesses had closed for good and how many would come out of hibernation.
The economic climate being what it is meant some would still be weighing this up, he said.
Before the pandemic cruise ships were a vital part of the local economy and identity, Nathan said.
Businesses had been missing the "high value" spend cruise passengers imparted while in the Bay.
Tourism Bay of Plenty sector manager Angela Werder said about 50 per cent of passengers who booked through the Mount Maunganui i-Site centre stayed in the region, enjoying experiences like Kiwifruit Country, local history tours, attractions that extend from Te Puke to Whakatāne, or shopping in Downtown Mount Maunganui and in Tauranga CBD.
"Now that we have a firm date for the maritime border to reopen and cruise to restart, we're connecting with past and potential tourism operators that are focused on servicing cruise line passengers about the types of tours and experiences they are planning to offer during spring, summer and autumn to satisfy this returning market."
Between 35 to 40 per cent of passengers arriving in Tauranga by cruise ship chose to also visit Rotorua.
Rotorua Economic Development chief executive Andrew Wilson said last week's border announcement would make a significant difference for all business sectors in Rotorua, especially tourism, accommodation and food and beverage operators.
"We also know that cruise ship passengers that disembarked at the Port of Tauranga spent $90m in the 2018/19 season making them a significant contributor to the Bay of Plenty region's visitor economy."
New Zealand Cruise Association chairwoman Debbie Summers said it greeted the news with cautious optimism and relief.
It meant cruise lines could start confirming port calls and preparing ships with certainty.
"New Zealand is an important destination for cruise lines and with worldwide demand for cruising strong again, combined with excellent regional dispersal, this sector ticks every box for value."
The challenge was building up services again and it would need to work closely with ports and agencies like Tourism Bay of Plenty, she said.
She said cruises would be a significant source of tourism for 2022/23.
A Port of Tauranga spokesperson said the first cruise ship calls would begin in October, with January being the busiest month.
The port expected about 100 visits would be booked in, typically lasting a day each.
Te Puia sales and marketing manager Sean Marsh said the announcement cruise ships could return this year marked an important milestone for it and the wider tourism industry's Covid-19 recovery.
With the surety that came with it, he said it had been able to put distinct timelines around the return of international manuhiri.
Marsh confirmed Te Puia would resume operating seven days a week by October 1.
"So much has changed in the past two years and we acknowledge the tourism industry, as a whole, will be different, but we are ready and will take this next phase in our stride.
"Ultimately, the return of cruise ships marks another tangible piece of the puzzle falling into place as Aotearoa reopens to the world."
Royal Caribbean International offers four New Zealand cruises this coming season that stopped in Tauranga.
A spokesperson said while shore excursions were being finalised, it would offer the best of what the city had.
The 2022/2023 season had been on sale since March last year, but after the announcement of the border opening, there had been "extremely positive interest" in this season and next.
This included Ovation of the Seas this year, Quantum of the Seas next year, and Enchantment of the Seas in 2024.
"Tauranga is a highly desired destination."
Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia and New Zealand vice president and managing director Gavin Smith said it was delighted by the border announcement.
"We want to thank all of our guests for their patience and loyalty as we navigated unprecedented challenges together."