A man whose company has invested more than $1 million booking two cruises on Le Laperouse for clients hosting 200 people has slammed the Government's decision not to let the ship in.
The luxury expedition cruise ship has been "hovering" outside New Zealand waters and is held at the border because most of the crew were refused visas.
According to tour operators, Le Laperouse's crew were given prior approval by the Ministry of Health to enter New Zealand.
Le Laperouse is a 264-passenger ship operated by cruise company Ponant.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said if the ship came to New Zealand, 61 people would either be quarantined on the ship until they were sent home or "detained".
"We have put five months of hard work into this and everything was ready, and dealing with a circus of a government has been a joke," said the man who did not want to be named.
More than 60 of the crew had been declined visas because they were not considered essential for the purpose of the ship's travel here.
Staff included hairdressers, bartenders and masseuses.
"There is a lack of understanding that staff working on the ship have multiple roles, they may have to make the beds but the same person may also be a singer and a bartender," the man said.
"To say locals can do the job, well that's absolute bulls***."
Helen Wilkins, from Queenstown, is also upset with the news.
She has booked a two-week cruise departing Auckland on February 8 for the Sub-Antarctic Islands, disembarking at Lyttelton on February 22.
"Obviously I am very concerned to hear on the news today that the ship is not permitted to enter NZ waters ... all very disconcerting," Wilkins said.
Wild Earth Travel director Aaron Russ chartered the ship from operator Ponant. Seven expeditions were planned around New Zealand, the first of which was due to start in Auckland on February 8.
The travel plans of up to 700 Kiwis have now been thrown into disarray.
The ship has 92 passenger cabins.
The New Zealand Cruise Association says it is "shocked and quite simply bewildered" to see that Immigration NZ had prevented the ship from coming in at the last minute, despite having the green light from the Ministry of Health.
The ministry had granted an exemption last December to allow the ship to operate domestically in New Zealand, carrying a maximum of 100 passengers.
"NZCA believes that all the ship's crew are essential to its operation and they cannot be replaced by New Zealanders in such a short time," NZCA chief executive Kevin O'Sullivan said.
O'Sullivan said the ship had followed procedure and did everything that was requested by the Government in order to offer safe domestic cruising in New Zealand.
"To comply with Covid-19 requirements to isolate crew, the ship has been slow steaming from its last port, testing everyone on board regularly," he said.
Le Laperouse was due in Auckland tomorrow for fuelling, maintenance work and New Zealand Covid-19 testing. Its first voyage would begin on February 8.
"This is a significant and devastating blow to the New Zealand tourism industry and to all those businesses that were relying on this one cruise ship to bring them some small glimmer of hope in the resurgence of regional cruise tourism," O'Sullivan said.
"Of course, the 700 Kiwi guests who had planned on enjoying a voyage will be most upset, too."
The association said the decision tarnished New Zealand as a cruise-friendly destination, undoing years of hard work.
"It is quite simply not good enough," O'Sullivan said.
Tour operators say the ship is currently less than 300 miles away from Auckland, after sailing from Asia.
"All crew members have been isolated for 27 days, have had four negative PCR tests and are fully trained in the company's Covid-safe protocols, safety and emergency operations."