The number of cruise ship passengers to visit Tauranga increased by almost 50 per cent last year, according to the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand.
And with that came more than $23 million of extra cruise ship spending.
In the year ended June, Tauranga saw a total of 227,358 unique cruise ship passengers visit.
The year before, it was 152,509 – an increase of 74,849 people (49 per cent).
No other port in New Zealand recorded a larger increase in passengers last year and that jump sees Tauranga now nipping at the heels of Auckland and Port Chalmers, which were the only ports with more cruise visitors.
In 2017/18, Tauranga had the fifth-highest number of visiting passengers but surpassed Wellington and Fiordland last year.
Tauranga also netted the second-highest amount of cruise ship spending last year – $90.26 million.
That was up 34.8 per cent from $66.96m in 2017/18.
Auckland saw the highest spending at $192.5m.
Nigel Busbridge, co-owner of V8 Trike Tours in Mount Maunganui, told the Bay of Plenty Times his business depended on the visiting cruise ships.
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He and his wife started the tours about three years ago with one trike, which cost $200,000, and now they have three operating.
"Without the cruise ship passengers we wouldn't be doing this," Busbridge said.
He said the cruise ship visitor growth was important, "not just for me but for everybody".
Busbridge said anyone who doubts that has to remember that the Mount is a cruise ship and holiday destination.
"If there weren't the tourists here, half of the businesses wouldn't be here."
Kim Bouzaid, owner of The Gift Locker on Mount Mainstreet, said the visiting cruise ships were "very important".
"It brings a good vibe into the city," she said. "Mount Maunganui is a destination spot."
Bouzaid has owned the giftware/homeware/art/novelty store for about two years now and said she had noticed a big change in that time.
"Foot traffic is amazing," she said.
She said cruise ship passengers did not often buy "big-ticket items" because they could not cart them around, but in the past, she has sold art and shipped it overseas for passengers.
Bouzaid said you could not always tell when there was a cruise ship in town and that sometimes depended on what excursions the passengers had gone on. She said more promotion to direct passengers to Mount Mainstreet would be good.
"Keep them coming," she said.
Last year's cruise ship passenger number was Tauranga's highest since 2015/16. It dropped in 2016/17 and then again in 2017/18.
Tourism Bay of Plenty's Kath Low said: "The Port of Tauranga and Bay of Plenty cruise experience is very highly regarded. While this growth is great for the region it is the potential future visits of cruise passengers which has fabulous potential for us all."
Altogether, 321,841 cruise ship passengers visited New Zealand last year, which was up 24 per cent from 259,489 the year before.
The New Zealand Cruise Association recorded 176 ship voyages and 981 port calls (including an increasing number of overnights), up from 148 and 707 respectively in the 2018 year.
Cruise ship spending totalled $569,794,000 in New Zealand last year.
That was up 28.2 per cent on the year before.
The next cruise ship season, which starts in six weeks, will see 112 cruise ships visit Tauranga. That list could still be updated.
Last season there were 115 cruise ship visits to Tauranga.
Last week, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones visited Tauranga and announced the Provincial Growth Fund would put $980,000 towards a new $5 million visitor information centre and cruise gateway in Mount Maunganui.
The money would top up the $4m in ratepayer funds the Tauranga City Council approved mid-2017.
Jones said in a statement at the time that the hub – named Te Tomokanga (The Archway), the Tauranga Cruise Gateway and Welcome Hub – would help drive a 35 per cent increase in cruise ship visits and "support the Bay of Plenty's goal of creating 4000 new jobs in tourism".
The building will include an i-Site and house 34 workers. It will replace the old visitor facility made out of two converted cargo containers.
Jones said roughly half of cruise passengers also visited Rotorua, Whakatāne, and Hobbiton.
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said that estimation, along with the new cruise passenger/spending statistics, showed Tauranga was an important hub for the Waikato and Eastern Bay of Plenty and it was probably time to look at how those regions benefit from the cruise ships, not just Tauranga.
"As a city, we want to do the best for the tourists, and obviously that's why we're looking at this cruise hub, but it would be nice to get a contribution from surrounding areas where half the people go to."
The number of unique cruise ship passengers to visit Tauranga
2018/19 - 227,358
2017/18 - 152,509
2016/17 - 153,735
2015/16 - 164,435
2014/15 - 147,518
Source: Statistics New Zealand