Tauranga could host cruise ships again as early as November next year - which could pump $4.1 million into the region's economy.
Royal Caribbean has announced its new Australasian 2022/23 season- from October 22, 2022 - with Ovation of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas set to sail to eight New Zealand ports from Australia.
Tauranga is expected to get its first port call for the 2022/23 season on November 6, 2022, from Radiance of the Seas.
The news has been welcomed by industry leaders but concerns have been raised about the safety protocols in the wake of Covid.
However, the shipping giant said strict procedures were in place.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the maritime border remains closed and at this stage, the Government would not be making any changes to the maritime border settings in relation to cruise ships but this would be reviewed in the future.
''Given the uncertainty around this area, we would advise people to closely review their cancellation and refund conditions before they make a booking.''
Royal Caribbean International vice president and managing director Gavin Smith said the ships would be sailing with 100 per cent fresh, filtered air, enhanced cleaning standards, expanded expert medical care and ''best practices for our guests, crew and the communities we visit''.
''As the world learns more about Covid and circumstances change, we'll continue to adjust and modify our measures according to the latest science and guidelines from the experts on our Healthy Sail Panel, and to the needs of the regions in which we sail.''
For example, the company's Singapore onboard protocols, developed with authorities in Singapore, include social distancing and full contact-tracing capability, he said.
''All guests undertake Covid testing before embarking and so far we have carried over 47,000 guests with no positive cases.''
He said refundable deposits were available for 2022/23 sailings, which allows guests to retrieve their deposit up to 70 days prior to sailing for most cruises.
The calls to New Zealand would inject an estimated $41m into the economy - including about $4.1m into Tauranga - over six trips. The ships were also visiting Wellington, Auckland, Bay of Islands, Napier, Picton and Dunedin.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said Ovation of the Seas was the largest cruise ship to have docked in Tauranga and Aotearoa.
Serenade of the Seas has not previously docked in Tauranga and was one of Royal Caribbean's "Radiance class" ships.
During the 2019/20 season, 105 ships visited Tauranga and generated $74.3m for the Bay of Plenty economy. In the 2018/19 season, 115 ships visited Tauranga and generated $90.3m.
She said her team was hard at work developing market-ready plans to welcome Aussies to the Bay when the transtasman bubble opened.
''We work with a raft of stakeholders, including residents and tourism businesses, to build the coastal Bay of Plenty's visitor economy in line with the type and quantity of visitors that our community want to welcome here.''
Tourism Bay of Plenty was also maintaining its brand presence in key international markets to ensure we are at the top of future travellers' bucket lists when border restrictions allow.
''No one knows what the future holds; right now we're focused on supporting the region's tourism industry, enticing Kiwis to visit our beautiful part of Aotearoa, and preparing for the transtasman bubble.''
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the absence of cruise ships was being felt as many retailers, hospitality and tourism operators prepare for the quieter winter months.
Cruise ships tend to extend the summer tourism season, helping businesses to replenish cash reserves to get them through winter.
''A range of retailers, eateries and tourism operators will be looking forward to welcoming Australians. The majority of cruise tourists stay within the coastal Bay of Plenty and many enjoy meandering around the city. We have great open-air environments that many international tourists will be looking for as global tourism tentatively restarts after Covid.''
Downtown Tauranga spokeswoman Sally Cooke said once they could assure the safety of passengers and the city with the rollout of vaccines, they looked forward to the return of the important industry.
In the past, Downtown Tauranga had run cruise ship shuttle buses, which allow the passengers to come into the CBD and enjoy shopping, dining and entertainment.
''It is important to us to ensure we have high-quality offerings to entice the cruise ship passengers into our city centre and ensure they have a unique and enjoyable experience.''
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said while cruise ships were visible, they were not large contributors to the overall Western Bay economy.
''They are much more significant to Rotorua and Matamata and I'm sure [passengers] will be welcomed back in those towns. Locally, their absence has certainly been felt by some retailers and industry operators, who will be glad to see more customers.''
The return of cruise ships to Tauranga would need to be carefully managed, he said.
Mount Business Association chairwoman Kim Renshaw said its members had adapted to the circumstances.
''At this point we won't be pursuing a plan around cruise ships until it becomes clear what the parameters will be in terms of international travel.''
House of Travel Tauranga owner Shane Kennedy said cruise companies were the most active when it came to gearing up for a post-Covid future.
''They are embracing new routes and especially focused on obligations towards health and safety.''
He said there were enormous commercial and social benefits in welcoming cruise ship passengers into the region but environmental, commercial, and health and safety aspects needed to be considered.
Kiwis were also booking cruises for late 2021 but there were a lot of inquiries and bookings for 2022 sailings.
''Hot spots are likely to be all across Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, essentially close-to-home destinations to start with but we will reconnect with global cruise destinations progressively as everyone's travel confidence is restored.''
Travel Agents Association president Brent Thomas said cruising was the fastest-growing part of the market before Covid.
People were starting to book for 2022 and beyond, but for cruise ships to come into the New Zealand waters, requirements and protocols would be set out by Maritime New Zealand and the Government.
''But what we do know is the cruise ships coming to New Zealand alongside New Zealanders enjoying cruises adds a huge amount to the local economies.''
A Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said the port was not budgeting for any cruise ship visits in the 2021/2022 season.
''We have some tentative bookings beyond that but shipping schedules are always subject to change.''
What is on the ships?
Quantum is the newest and most technologically advanced ship. Features include the RipCord by iFly skydiving simulator, North Star all-glass viewing capsule and FlowRider surf simulator. There are more than 18 different dining options and a new wave of entertainment.
Ovation boasts a bevy of breathtaking activities like the North Star, RipCord by iFly, FlowRider and a myriad of dining options, as well as cutting-edge entertainment venues like the transformational Two70 – featuring jaw-dropping shows that weave aerialists and robots into showstopping performances.
Radiance has 11 world-class dining options from the exclusive Chef's Table to guest favourite Izumi. There are tranquil spaces to relax like the stunning Solarium, and places to energise, like the rock-climbing wall and mini-golf course.