A "disrespectful" pantomime pōwhiri that welcomed cruise ship passengers to Tauranga last month is now being touted as helping spark a surge of cultural tourism ventures in the Bay of Plenty.
And tourism experts suggest these new ventures will likely create new competition for Rotorua.
Tourism Bay of Plenty has spent more than a year looking at ways to rejuvenate local cultural tourism and now 15 new enterprises are on the table.
Māori tourism product development manager Simon Phillips said the "unsavoury" pōwhiri had a "galvanising" effect in shocking the community into action on this topic. The incident involved crudely dressed and painted foreign cruise ship staff attempting a traditional Māori welcome for passengers.
Phillips said he aimed to have all 15 enterprises up and running by the next cruise ship season, which begins in October.
But there was still a lot more work to be done, he said.
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said a number of iwi from throughout New Zealand mentioned their interest in investing in cultural tourism in Tauranga.
He said the right amount of development and government funding could get Tauranga's cultural offerings well above Rotorua's.
"We have the hallmarks of something really good here."
Stanley believed the incident with the cruise ship had shown how ship liners had noticed a necessity for cultural tourism at the Port of Tauranga.
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Mauao Trust member Buddy Mikaere said "packaging up" cultural programmes for Tauranga had been in discussion for a while as the city had become a "drop-off point" for Rotorua.
The current stand-alone gazebo that greeted cruise ship passengers was not enough, Mikaere said.
The "pantomime pōwhiri" was something Mikaere said he found extremely disrespectful, however, it highlighted how many people cared about getting it right, he said.
"We as a city could do so much more ... people are genuinely interested in the city's cultural history."
When asked if a cultural experience could be in the works for Mauao, he said it had been discussed but nothing had come to fruition in fear of overcrowding the site.
A conference was being held next month where city leaders planned to discuss the next steps in the city's cultural tourism investment.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said the city "could do better" in terms of telling its cultural stories.
He said they had been working closely with a range of organisations to bring local cultural tourism operators to the table and help them in any way they could.
He said telling the stories of the iwi history in Tauranga Moana would benefit everyone.
"We need to grow up, move forward and start telling these stories."
In Rotorua, community leaders were not feeling threatened.
Cultural ambassador for the Rotorua Lakes Council Trevor Maxwell said the city's cultural tourism industry had a "point of difference" to Tauranga with its geothermal wonders.
Rotorua would throw their support behind anything Tauranga offered in cultural tourism as "the more there is, the better".
Cultural tourism had been the bloodline of the Rotorua economy since Te Arawa first settled here, he said.
Cruise ship passengers disembarking at the Port of Tauranga spent $90m in the 2018/19 season.
There were no statistics showing how much of this was spent in Rotorua. However, it was understood about a third of cruise ship passengers coming into Tauranga chose a Rotorua excursion.
Destination Rotorua chief executive Michelle Templer said Maōri-led cultural experiences in any destination were valuable for international guests.
More than a quarter of all international visitors to New Zealand visited the Rotorua district.
Rotorua tour operator Tak Mutu said the city would not be threatened by a Tauranga cultural tourism grab as Rotorua was the "home of it".
"It wouldn't be anything to worry about for us."
Cultural tourism would be an excellent opportunity for the Tauranga economy nonetheless, he said.
NEW CULTURAL TOURISM OPERATORS PROPOSED FOR THE BAY:
1. Waiariki Adventures in Te Puke - a cultural tour of the 30ha block (in development)
2. Rangitāiki Tours - cultural tour around Whakatāne (functioning business)
3. The Souk in Kaimai - indigenous market (functioning business)
4. Te Ara Tourism - e-bike cultural tour of Omokoroa Heritage Trail (in development)
5. Tangata Whenua Tours - cultural tour around Mount/Lake Tarawera (in development)
6. East Coast Paddlers/Mauao Adventures - cultural tour (established business)
7. My Maunga Tours in Mount Maunganui - cultural hīkoi of Mount Maunganui (in development)
8. Mo's Matakana Island Tours (in development)
9. Maketū Marae Experience (functioning business)
10. Arataki Systems - tech business (functioning business)
11. LoCol Rides Mount Maunganui - mobility scooter tour provider (functioning business)
12. Mussel Farm Tour Coromandel - cultural tour (in development)
13. Glass-bottom waka Tauranga - supplier of glass-bottomed waka (in development)
14. TravelEd Tauranga - educational tours (functioning business)
15. Matakana Ferry Ltd - water transport (functioning business)