A ban on cruise ships visiting New Zealand ports for the rest of the season is expected to wipe $5 million from the Bay of Islands economy.

The ban — announced on Sunday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus in New Zealand — will hit hardest in Paihia but its effects will ripple through Northland, especially with the number of tourists arriving by air also expected to plummet.

There is as yet no estimate of how many jobs could be lost.

Irwin Wilson, cruise ship co-ordinator for port authority Far North Holdings, said the premature end of the cruise ship season would have a "huge impact".

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"We're been fortunate we're so far through the season. Had this happened earlier, the consequences would have been quite horrific," he said.

Even when cruise ships were cleared to return there was no guarantee the industry would pick up where it left off.

"The real questions we need to start thinking about are, when will cruise ships start returning, and in what sort of numbers?"

"There will be a considerable amount of pain within the community with the lost income from the ships, and where we go after June 30 [when the ban is due to end] is still uncertain."

"At the moment we're in a wait and see position. We just have to see what the world does around us, unfortunately," he said.

Cruise NZ had estimated the industry had injected $21m into Bay of Islands in 2018-19, a figure which had been expected to climb by about 20 per cent this season.

With 19 ships and 40,000 passengers no longer calling in, about a quarter of the total, that meant the Bay of Islands would miss out on about $5m.

A few days ago Business Paihia chairwoman Robyn Stent was upbeat, with the town benefiting from extra ships diverted from around the Pacific.

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Sunday's announcement, combined with an expected drop in all international visitors, had changed that.

"Most of our business comes from foreign tourists and they're gone. It's not only cruise ships, we expect to lose visitors across the board. There's still a few visitors now but this week we'll see the last run-down as they wait for their planes, then we'll be in mid-winter mode."

Businesses had lost the last six weeks of its high season, which they relied on to get them through the winter months.

"Everybody will be looking at their budgets, their staffing, and ways to mitigate this," Stent said.

She was keen to start a forum where business owners could talk and get help with budgeting.

"We'll be focusing on what we can do to help our businesses. That's all we can do."

Far North Mayor John Carter said in recent days he had rung all tourism and business associations around the Far North to find out how they were affected.

That information would be taken into consideration by a council and used to inform central government..

Retailers were also losing out because they were unable to get stock from China.

"I am concerned for our district, and for our nation. It's likely to be challenging," Carter said.

There were no plans as yet to stop public events at council-owned facilities.

"But we expect the community, just as they have with the drought, to use their common sense and join together," he said.

A record 74 cruise ships had been expected to call in to the Bay of Islands in the 2019-20 season, with five of those adding Northland to their itineraries after ports in the Pacific were closed earlier this month.

On Saturday, when cruise ship visits were halted, Ovation of the Seas was already on its way to Paihia with 4180 passengers on board when it had to turn around and return to Sydney.

Princess Cruises had already suspended its sailings after some of its vessels were affected by Covid-19.

The Diamond Princess was quarantined in Japan last month after an outbreak affected more than 700 passengers and crew. The Golden Princess had been held off the coast of Akaroa after a passenger developed symptoms of Covid-19 but test results came back negative yesterday.

Flying Kiwi Parasail owner Rich de Rosa, with crew member Elliot Bexon, expects his business to be hard hit by Covid-19 but he's determined to hang on to core staff through winter. Photo / P de Graaf
Flying Kiwi Parasail owner Rich de Rosa, with crew member Elliot Bexon, expects his business to be hard hit by Covid-19 but he's determined to hang on to core staff through winter. Photo / P de Graaf

Bracing for the impact

Businesses across Northland are bracing themselves for what could be a sharp downturn — and nowhere more so than in the Bay of Islands where Covid-19 has turned off the local economy's lifeblood.

All cruise ship visits have been halted until June 30 and the number of visitors arriving by other means is also expected to drop as people worldwide put overseas holidays on hold.
As of 1am Monday all arrivals in New Zealand are required to spend two weeks in isolation in a bid to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Rich De Rosa, owner of Paihia-based Flying Kiwi Parasail, said cruise ships were the "icing on the cake" for his business.

With no more ships coming in he had put one of his two boats in storage and let one skipper go.

He had also lost a big wholesale contract when Contiki, a provider of tours for under-35s, had taken its buses off the road until at least the end of April.

"So I've got to cut my crew back. I'll just strip back a bit and see what happens."

De Rosa was, however, determined to keep operating through winter, so he could offer a year-round activity and keep his key staff employed.

He had a core crew of three which ramped up to nine from Christmas usually until Easter.

"We're getting close to the end [of the season] anyway. If this had happened in November it would've been a world of hurt.

"It's definitely going to impact us, and a lot of other small businesses, but we'll get through. We've been here 22 years."

De Rosa said the Government could help businesses like his by putting provisional tax bills on hold, especially because no one knew what the next year would bring.

A tax break or wage subsidies would also be helpful.

"It's critical for me to get my core staff through the winter months. I've got one guy who's been with me for 16 years. I have to hang onto him."