Tauranga's United Travel Bethlehem has made the finals of Cruise Lines International Association Australasia's annual awards, the leading event for the industry.

The agency has been named as one of five finalists in the Cruise Agency of the Year - New Zealand category of the 2015 Cruise Industry Awards, which will be announced on Saturday.

It is the only Bay of Plenty company to reach the finals in any category.

The other four finalists in the Cruise Agency category are all from Auckland.


CLIA Australasia commercial director Brett Jardine said scores of entries had been received for the nine award categories, reflecting the growing interest in cruising throughout the region.

"It's wonderful to see the competition for these awards increase year-on-year as the local cruise industry continues to expand," he said.

"More agents are now selling cruises and are keen to win industry acknowledgement for their achievements."

United Travel Bethlehem managing director Kay Rogers said the global cruise industry had become "absolutely massive".

She and fellow director/owner Catherine Membery, who merged their individual companies and joined forces in the United Travel franchise a decade ago, have been pioneers in the market.

Ms Rogers was the first recipient of the travel agent award in 2005 when CLIA added New Zealand to their awards.

United Travel's cruise ship marketing targets local Kiwis in the region who are looking for interesting, exotic cruise destinations, which can range from a cruise from South America to Antarctica, to a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, to a voyage around Africa. Most clients flew to global destinations to begin their cruises.

The agency had been focusing on upskilling its staff, all of whom had cruised extensively. Selling something out of a brochure was no longer enough, she said.

"Clients are savvy and extremely well-travelled these days and they want to speak to somebody who might offer something unique that they have never thought of doing," Ms Rogers said.

Tracey Brennan of Cruise Holidays, a supplier of high-end, luxury tours, said the United team had integrity and a wealth of knowledge about travel.

"They strive to achieve over and above the client's expectations and they're always willing to learn more."

Rhys Arrowsmith, chief executive of Tourism Bay of Plenty and a board member of Cruise New Zealand, said cruising was New Zealand's fastest-growing tourism sector, a good example being next season's forecast for a huge 20 per cent growth in ship visits to Tauranga.

"This growth, in part, relies on outbound New Zealanders taking global journeys. The key to success is top-performing agencies like United Travel Bethlehem who offer expert advice and planning. Knowing this agency, it's little wonder they have reached the finals."