Cruise ships are a step closer to returning to Napier for the first time since the Covid-infected Ruby Princess ship docked, starting a cluster of cases in the city.
The announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of a planned transtasman bubble with Australia by the end of March, could see cruises returning to Napier Port by the 2021/22 season.
Napier Port says it's for the Government and its ministries to decide when cruises are allowed back into New Zealand, but even when they are it will mull a "number of factors" at the time.
The value of the city's cruise ship economy is significant - the now-cancelled visits of 90 cruise ships for the 2020/21 season were expected to generate $32 million for businesses in the Hawke's Bay region based on previous yearly spending.
But the city's appetite for the ships has been dented by the Ruby Princess's visit on March 14, which infected a tour guide with Covid-19.
Once in Napier, the virus spread to create a cluster of cases within rest home residents at Gladys Mary Care Home and health workers.
Hawke's Bay Tourism chief executive Hamish Saxton said if the transtasman bubble proves to be a success, demand for cruise tourism could grow.
"Australians make up roughly 50 per cent of cruise passengers to New Zealand, so allowing travel between the two countries could see a demand for cruise holidays in the 21/22 season," Saxton said.
Saxton said while Hawke's Bay has succeeded in attracting domestic visitors to the region, a transtasman bubble could be a "shot in the arm" for the region next year.
Napier City Business Inc manager Pip Thompson said the city's retailers would welcome back cruises and their passengers as soon as possible, although acknowledged that could still be about a year away with the 2021/2022 season starting around October.
"We don't want to burst our bubble, so to speak, in terms of having that anticipation of them returning," she said.
Thompson said the foot traffic from passengers is great for vibrancy in the CBD, and what they spend is a financial icing on the cake for retailers.
She also said that a travel bubble opening up in March would come at the perfect time.
"Domestic travellers can travel to sunny Hawke's Bay right through our summer months, and then when autumn hits, the borders are open, and, hallelujah, 2021's going to look favourable for the whole year," Thompson said.
A spokeswoman for Napier Port said any decision of when cruises can return would be made by the Government and the rules of engagement would be determined by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Primary Industries, Customs and Maritime New Zealand.
"When they return at some future point, operationally we'd be able to accommodate the ships, but we'd weigh up a number of factors at the time, including what measures the Government has in place around Covid-19 precautions specific to cruise," the spokeswoman said.
Saxton said Australians spend in excess of $60 billion on overseas travel each year and in any normal year, Australia is Hawke's Bay's leading international market, and fourth biggest market overall following Auckland, Wellington and Manawatū.
In the 12 months to February 2020, the Australian market was worth $52.2m to Hawke's Bay's visitor economy, however, border restrictions due to Covid-19 had seen that revenue drop significantly, he said.