After three years of few cruise ships following the Covid-19 pandemic, Bay of Islands businesses are excited about the upcoming record cruise ship season, which is likely to pump up to $30 million into the local economy.
The cruise ship season runs from September to April, and this season up to 92 cruise ships - the most ever - carrying an estimated 155,000 passengers could visit the Bay of Islands.
The passengers could pump up to $30m into the economy, and Business Paihia chairman Charles Parker said the news was exciting for businesses in the area and all those people who welcomed the cruise ships and their visitors.
The largest ship again this season will be the massive Ovation of the Seas, which can hold 4180 passengers and is set to visit on November 30 and January 21.
“It will be huge for the Bay. We haven’t had a great run with cruise ships (over the past few years), with Covid first, then last season, they were hit by bad weather and biofouling issues that saw quite a few cancelling their visits to the Bay,” Parker said.
“We’re hoping for a fantastic season this year, and we could really do with the extra business.”
The Bay’s businesses have been struggling since Covid-19 closed the country in 2020, and the return of cruise ships in such numbers was positive news.
Parker said as well as pouring money into the local economy, the cruise ship visits provided much-needed work in the hospital and tourism sector - but it was the Bay of Islands experience that saw the cruise ships returning, with most on this season’s schedule having visited previously.
“The Bay of Islands [has done] really well in terms of passenger satisfaction and delivering a great experience to those who come ashore here in the past,” Parker said.
“As a port we rate very highly, and that in turn gives the Bay a great reputation, and the [record season ahead] is a great result for business in the Bay of Islands.”
While the cruise ship passengers only come ashore for the day, many will come back to visit the country for a longer stay after that initial experience, with the Bay usually on their list of places to visit.
“The place [Paihia] just buzzes when the cruise ship passengers come ashore. We have a market day on the village green that sells local products, and we have an ambassador programme where ambassadors make sure passengers get to where they want to go and have good time. The whole town gets behind them when they come ashore,” he said.
The season’s cruise ship numbers compare with 43 ships scheduled in 2022-23 and the pre-Covid height of 83 ships in 2019-20. The schedule can still change.
NZ Cruise Ship Association chief executive Jacqui Lloyd said the cruise ship companies all speak highly of the Bay of Islands, so it was no real surprise that they were returning in force this season.
“There’s such a strong interest from them in New Zealand, and we’ve ended up with what looks like a very strong cruise season,” Lloyd said.
"All the feedback we get from the companies is that they love coming to the Bay of Islands, and that’s a testament to the great work up there delivering a wonderful experience for the passengers. The team up there, and everybody involved in hosting them, are doing such a good job that they keep wanting to come back."
She said it helped that the Bay of Islands was the birthplace of the country and had such historical and cultural significance.
Lloyd said cruise ship passengers enjoyed that aspect of their visit, but also the Bay’s stunning beauty, which was obvious from well before they disembarked.
"And there are so many interesting and exciting things for them to do once they do come ashore, with trips around the Bay, or just strolling through Paihia, Russell or Waitangi and soaking up the history.
"So they get a unique experience there that they cannot get anywhere else, and all the feedback is that they love it."
Lloyd said Far North Holdings has done a great job in running the logistics for the cruise ships, and they were fully supported by Bay businesses and communities.
She said cruising is a growing way to travel, and issues with outbreaks on ships during the Covid-19 pandemic have been addressed with strict health and safety measures.
For more information on when the cruise ships are scheduled to visit the Bay, go to: newzealandcruiseassociation.com/2022-2023-cruise-ship-schedule.
Mike Dinsdale is news director and senior journalist who covers general news for the Advocate. He has worked in Northland for almost 34 years and loves the region.