Tauranga has been named one of the top five cruise destinations in Australasia despite "health and safety concerns" at its "unwelcoming" facilities.
Tauranga ranked fifth, behind Wellington (4) and Akaroa (3) in the 2018 Cruise Critic Cruisers' Choice Awards last week. Sydney ranked first.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said, while she was delighted at the result, it proved better facilities were "desperately" needed ahead of forecast bigger cruise ship seasons.
Cruise visits were expected to grow by 44.6 per cent between 2017 and 2025, according to an economic analysis by Fresh Info.
"As the cruise ship numbers grow, our already stretched and unwelcoming facilities will become even more unfit for our cruise passengers," she said.
"The value of these passengers, their reviews, and their propensity to return to the region and recommend the coastal Bay of Plenty to their friends and families is vital to our economy."
In 2016/17, cruise activity injected $59 million into the Tauranga economy - an increase of 20 per cent from the previous year, according to Statistics NZ. The spend was the second highest after Auckland at all 14 of New Zealand's ports.
Dunne said the region, due for record cruise ship numbers this season, needed fit-for-purpose facilities before they were out-grown to the point of disaster.
The numbers of passengers and tour operators flooding Salisbury Wharf with foot and vehicle traffic presented "significant health and safety concerns for our cruise passengers and locals".
"The Regional Cruise Gateway and Welcome Hub on Coronation Park is desperately needed to welcome these passengers and safely disperse them out into the region," Dunne said.
She said events like markets and Picnics in the Park helped visitors feel welcome.
Passengers remarked on beaches, Mauao views, glowworm kayaking and kiwifruit orchard tours.
"If our positive reputation as a welcoming region, which looks after its cruise passengers is to be maintained, we must prepare for both the negative and positive consequences of that growth."
Mount Mainstreet manager Ingrid Fleming said cruise visits were incredibly important and something needed to be done, even something as simple as signage.
"As you walk down Pilot Bay, there's no signage to let people know. It's been known to happen where people walk all the way down Pilot Bay and back and not even realise there is a shopping centre there," she said.
Last month, Tauranga City Council voted 6-5 to allocate $4m towards the proposed visitor information centre.
Tourism Bay of Plenty has applied to the Government's Provincial Growth Fund for $1 million towards the planned $5m visitor information centre in the park.
Councillor Rick Curach, who voted against the funding, sympathised with Dunne, saying Tauranga could do better.
"But it depends on what the proposal is and how it will impinge on port activity," he said.
"They do need something ... but it requires thinking and clever design."
When asked about the dangers presented by passengers dispersing from the gates, Curach said the street was closed when two or more cruise ships were in port but the council was open to improvements.