Fears are mounting that New Zealand could be left off the lucrative upcoming cruise ship itinerary if the Government doesn't follow Australia's lead and re-open the maritime border.
Industry experts also warn many tourism operators have taken on other jobs, closed their doors or gone into hibernation.
A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman said it had successfully welcomed back more than a million holidaymakers globally in the past 12 months.
She said Radiance of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas would visit New Zealand in the 22/23 season.
Ovation was scheduled to stop in Tauranga on November 22, with Radiance arriving the same day and Quantum on March 23 next year.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said New Zealand's decision on the maritime border was still under review.
''It will reopen safely and in steps, and any decisions will be communicated once they've been made."
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Oscar Nathan said New Zealand would be playing catch-up to compete for 2022/2023 summer cruise passengers who may already be focused on other routes.
However, the closed border had given the Tauranga cruise industry plenty of time to think about the future.
"Prior to Covid, cruise was a vital part of our local economy and identity. Businesses have been missing the high-value spend cruise passengers impart.''
In the 2019-20 cruise season, 105 ships with about 183,000 passengers contributed $74 million to the local economy - "and we've had nothing since then". The season previously netted $89m.
Tourism Bay of Plenty was working alongside Tauranga City Council, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Port of Tauranga to review new settings required to ensure cruise line schedules were sustainable.
"We are engaging with operators and connecting with the community to manage any previous cruise-related challenges."
He said the ''market disappeared virtually overnight for the local operators who were solely focused on cruise passengers".
''The pain for these operators has been real. Some pivoted their businesses to pursue new domestic markets, although these are likely to have been less lucrative. Others went into hibernation, while some have closed down or their owners have decided to retire."
Destination Rotorua chief executive Andrew Wilson said Rotorua has traditionally hosted large numbers of cruise ship visitors while they berthed in Tauranga.
''The opening of the maritime border is another positive step forward for the sector as it rebuilds.''
He said its tourism operators have had an extremely difficult two years.
''Many have seen visitor numbers plummet by 90-95 per cent. Unsurprisingly, being the innovative group they are, there has been a broad range of approaches taken over the last two years that includes, for example, reinvestment in experiences, products and infrastructure, exploring new revenue streams and sharing resources between business."
Claudia West, from the Mount Business Association, said its recent survey of members identified mixed reactions to cruise ships returning.
She said depending on who she spoke to, a lot of retailers did not think the cruise ships were a key market because passengers did not spend a lot of money.
Summer had been ''a great trade for businesses'' at the Mount and she said it was looking forward to welcoming general travellers from Australia.
New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O'Sullivan said it had been in discussions with the Government and he was also worried about off-ship attractions as many operators had pivoted, closed or left to pursue other jobs.
Being left off the upcoming cruise season itinerary was another worry.
He said a firm date was needed on the maritime border so that the industry could start planning.
''We need to plan for the infrastructure onshore, and all the operators need to be gearing up. You can't just flick a light switch.''
Cruise fan Neil Williams said he had an island cruise booked for Vanuatu and Fiji last year but it was canned, rebooked and booked again.
He would finally get on board with his wife Angela in July next year.
Williams said Covid would always be at the back of his mind but he envisaged in the future it could become as common as a cold.
House of Travel Papamoa, Mt Maunganui and The Crossing owner/operator Tanya Aitken said the Australia-based cruise ships start sailing again from Sydney on May 31 and Kiwis are already booking to fly over to Aussie to cruise again.
She said if the maritime border doesn't open, ships would re-route to skip New Zealand.
''That will have a serious impact on our regional economies and tourism operators that previously had a strong cruise market pre-Covid-19.''
Kiwis were already flying overseas to take cruises in destinations like the Caribbean and Europe.
''Recent world cruises have sold out in record time, which shows there is pent-up demand for cruise travel.''
YOU Travel Bethlehem managing director Kay Rogers said the closure had impacted ''hugely'' on our own NZ-owned and -operated cruise companies.
''They have been trying to continue to keep financially viable and offer a domestic cruise service to New Zealanders who want to cruise.''
She said many people had massive credits that had been accumulated from previous years and they want to rebook.
However, capacity was a major problem.
''The rest of the world has been able to travel since July 2021 and have been doing so successfully and without issue. Our clients are cruising to every possible corner of the globe.''
Helloworld Travel Rotorua owner Deborah Kay said the cruising industry was a massive revenue stream for the New Zealand economy and the closure of the maritime borders has brought this to ''a grinding halt''.
Many cruise companies have spent the last two years enhancing their systems and technology onboard to ensure the health and safety of their guests.
Kay said cruises have been operating successfully overseas for the last nine months and ''there's no reason why they can't do so here''.
''We have a number of clients booked to cruise later this year from New Zealand and around Australia, with many others keen to book as soon as the maritime borders reopen.''
Galaxy World Travellers Rotorua owner Joanna Corbett said tourist attractions had been ''starved'' in the absence of cruise ships.
She said the maritime border opening ''cannot happen soon enough, and it is great to see Australia leaping onboard in April''.
Cruising was still big during Covid and Viking was building more ships, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea launched new ships, she said.
A Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said it had some tentative cruise ship bookings from October.
Cille Fabert, the owner of Tauranga-based Dolphin Seafaris, said it was "absolutely imperative" that the Government opened up Tauranga to cruise ship passengers again.
Fabert said it had been a "very tough" two years despite great support from domestic tourists.
She was working part-time four days a week to keep her business afloat.
Fabert has worked in the business for 16 years, buying it in 2019 about six months prior to the first Covid-19 lockdown.
She said at the height of the summer season pre-pandemic, cruise ship passengers and international tourists accounted for about 60 per cent of her business.
"We were so busy that we used to operate two trips a day to keep up with demand."
She said trips were weather-dependent, of course, and Covid added another stressor to the business, with bookings often unexpectedly postponed or cancelled at the last minute.
Fabert said she was "very concerned" about her business and knew of other tourism business owners who had closed their doors.