The Bay's biggest cruise ship season yet has almost drawn to a close with one last ship expected to berth in Tauranga next month.

Nearly 160,000 passengers arrived in Tauranga via cruise ships this summer and next season promises to be even bigger.

Seventy-four ships berthed in Tauranga during the 2015/16 season bringing 158,278 passengers to explore the Bay " the highest number yet and up from 144,721 passengers last season, according to Tourism Bay of Plenty figures.

Next season, starting on October 12, was predicted to be even bigger. Tourism BOP expected 19 double or triple ship days and larger ships, with passenger forecast numbers exceeding 6000 or even 7000 passengers per ship day.


It was estimated there would be 89 ship visits and 70 ship days in the upcoming season, up from 65 ship days this season.

Among the ships berthing next season would be the $1.25 billion mega cruise liner Ovation of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship ever to visit New Zealand, which was expected to make its first visit in December. In the ship's first season alone, Ovation of the Seas was expected to inject nearly $1.7 million into the local economy as a result of two calls in the Bay.

Fifty per cent of all passengers stayed in the local area to explore Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, Tourism Bay of Plenty marketing and communications manager Kristin Dunne said.

"The perception that still remains that 'all cruise ship passengers just go to Rotorua' is not correct.

"If they do visit the major attractions in Rotorua and Hobbiton ... the majority are going with Tauranga-based tour operators," Ms Dunne said.

Tauranga experienced bigger ships, carrying more passengers, as well as nine new ships, including a few boutique ships.

The last ship of this season, Insignia, would arrive on May 18.

Tourism BOP was looking at making improvements, and had recommended to city council to invest further in the i-PORT facility to ensure it was effective for servicing the huge numbers of visitors.

The sales of local tours increased by 13 per cent, through the i-PORT and pre-booked direct to local businesses.

Bop Trips, which operates tours around the Bay for cruise ship passengers, had bigger numbers and found the spending capacity of the passengers to be "quite good".

Owner Koushal Sawhney said the season was far better than other years, but that Tauranga was not getting its share of the cake.

"We do local tours as well for those who do stay, but they only last two hours. After two hours you have nothing to do over here," Mr Sawhney.

"Most of the passengers want to go to Rotorua and there's nothing here to entertain them."

He said some sort of attraction or tourist site needed to be considered to attract tourists and keep them in Tauranga instead of travelling to Rotorua or Hobbiton.

"Rotorua has many things to do, they have the gondola, skyline rides, other activities."

Mount Mainstreet Association chairwoman Jane Debenham said she had heard nothing negative about the season.

"I think we are seeing a lot of free, independent travellers coming back that had been on cruises that loved the Mount and wanted to come back and explore it more in depth."

Downtown Tauranga manager Sally Cooke said she enjoyed seeing passengers in the city centre.

"Our cruise ship shuttle that runs passengers into the city centre has run really well this season and allowed us to bring tourists into the city so they can experience all there is on offer," she said.

Ms Cooke said Downtown Tauranga would like to see a more proactive approach to tourism activities in the city centre to increase tourism offerings.