The Government said today that it is confident cruise ships will be back this summer, in the face of growing industry frustration over the lack of a fixed date for their return.
Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins said he understood no cruise ships were booked in until October, and he was confident they would be welcome by then.
"I can understand the industry's eagerness, and the rule changes are not far off now to get the clarity in place," he told the Herald.
The Government has previously said the maritime border is more complicated than the air border, and the minister restated this today.
"We've had a few things to work through. We absolutely are going to be standardising the air and maritime borders – we're just working through the details. We'll be making decisions as quickly as we can."
The New Zealand Cruise Association today warned that New Zealand risks losing millions of dollars unless the Government confirms as soon as possible when maritime borders will reopen.
It says the lack of certainty is also putting at risk hundreds of ailing tourism businesses that support cruises.
"The continuing silence from Government on reopening our maritime borders is squandering the enormous contribution that the New Zealand cruise sector could make in providing desperately needed revenue to help regional tourism operators survive into 2023," said association chairwoman Debbie Summers.
New Zealand had already lost 250 port calls and around $150 million in revenue because of border uncertainty. Cruise lines need time to plan schedules for the 2022-23 cruise season and time was rapidly running out, she said.
"More than 80 countries around the world are now open to cruise, including Australia. We know there is considerable pent-up demand among travellers, but international cruise lines are unwilling to put New Zealand on their list because we are still closed."
The impact would fall most heavily on regions that rely on income from cruise ships in the summer, especially while international tourism was still recovering, Summers said.
Before the pandemic, the cruise sector added $550m to New Zealand's economy – equal to the entire business and events sector.
"In the more than two years since our borders closed, New Zealand has lost over a billion dollars. This can't continue. We cannot lose another cruise season without a serious breakdown in our ability to service all visitors to New Zealand," Summers said.
The cruise sector was now well-recognised as leading the way with Covid health measures, she said. All passengers and crew are vaccinated and regularly tested, ventilation has been enormously enhanced and there are extensive health measures on board.
Last month Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said he would love to see cruise ships back, and praised the industry for its health response.
"Cruise is a very good case study of how a sector of the tourism economy was completely gutted. The perception of them was about as low as you could get and they've changed that by working incredibly hard to address the concerns of people who take cruises," he told the Herald.