Bay of Plenty's booming cruise ship season will not return this year, signalling a potential loss of close to $100 million to the local economy.
New Zealand's borders remain closed under Covid-19 restrictions. It is unknown when they will eventually reopen to allow ports to welcome cruise ships again.
But all is not lost as city leaders look for ways to fill the international visitor vacuum.
Tourism Bay of Plenty figures reveal that during the 2019/20 season there were 268,690 passengers and crew from 105 ships including 25 double ship days, one triple ship day, and six overnight ships.
Visitor spend figures for 2019/20 have not yet been released.
However, the year prior, the Bay of Plenty welcomed 227,358 passengers who spent $90.3 million in the local economy. This spend became the second-largest total spending by port in New Zealand.
The absence of this economic boost is expected to be felt throughout the Bay of Plenty for years to come.
To the year ending March 2019, there were more than 8000 jobs directly employed by the local tourism industry. This did not include the jobs or businesses supplying directly to the ships while docked at the Port of Tauranga.
Tourism Bay of Plenty head of marketing Kath Low said the organisation was working closely with Tauranga Chamber of Commerce and Priority One to help affected businesses throughout the coastal bay area.
"In some instances, particularly with businesses that were previously focused on the international markets or cruise industry, we are assisting them to create new opportunities or tailor their offering to the domestic market," Low said.
An example was Mount Classic Tours which used to focus on cruise ship shore excursions before Covid-19, has since expanded, buying Tauranga-based domestic group travel business Hinterland Tours.
Tourism Bay of Plenty also helped Mount Classic Tours owner Ian Holroyd gain a job delivering for Mount Maunganui New World once his international market dried up.
"Like so many tourism organisations, Tourism Bay of Plenty has shifted focus. Our organisation's priorities are domestic marketing, destination management and planning, and industry capability building and product development," Low said.
In the year ending March 2020, domestic visitor spend reached $864m, making up 77 per cent of the total visitor spend of $1.109 billion.
"We will be relying on the strength of our domestic market and it is vital to our economy," Low said.
A national tourism campaign is expected to be launched this month
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said the impact of Covid-19 and the Whakaari White Island eruption had been devastating to the local tourism sector but the lack of cruise ships was a surmountable challenge that had been anticipated.
The key was to focus on domestic tourism.
"We got $1.1 billion from tourism (last year) and only 9 per cent of that came from cruise ships. The vast majority is domestic," he said.
Powell applauded Tourism Bay of Plenty's actions, which he said made a real difference in the face of disaster by launching a domestically-focus campaign in March.
"It would be fair to say the Te Hā Tāpoi
Love of Tourism [campaign] should be described as prescient. Tourism Bay of Plenty was able to look forward and predict ... an international downturn, which was where this strategy came from. I think they were quite visionary."
Powell said it was important to work closely with surrounding cities, a message echoed by Western Bay of Plenty mayor Garry Webber who said we needed to look for ways to fill the economic gap.
A collaborative inter-region campaign is expected to launch in the near future with neighbouring central North Island regions.
Daunted but hopeful
Mount Maunganui businessman Ian New
knows first-hand how important cruise ship visitors are to the local economy.
The Kiwiana Gifts and Souvenirs owner has already had to close his gift shop Paradise at the Mount
due to the downturn in international visitors.
"It needed the tourism to survive," he said.
"But summer should be okay. Next winter will be the next big thing."
New described international visitors as "a main business".
"It's a pretty important role they play but you feel that domestic people are out and about more now so I'm hoping for a good summer again."
New said Mount Maunganui had an advantage with smaller boutique shops which "makes a big difference" in terms of destination tourism. Kiwiana Gifts and Souvenirs has been running for 12 years.
"It's a bit like Napier, people will come here specifically."
However, while hopeful, the lack of cruise ships and their visitors this summer was "daunting", New said.
"But you just have to hang on in there and just ride it out, wait for it to turn around. We don't know how long it will be."
New said he would like to see more activities on offer locally, to offer families more than "just a beach".
"We are quite lucky to have Rotorua on our doorstep. They have a lot of activities to do."