A tour operator is under fire for using fake Maori to attract tourists from cruise ships docking in Tauranga.

Discovery Heritage Group has been banned from Port of Tauranga land after rival companies complained it hired foreign workers to wear traditional Maori dress.

Company director Terina Puriri said she employed a range of nationalities, including French and Israelis, because local Maori were not willing to promote their heritage.

"Some of our Maori are too slack to promote themselves. Some of our Maori are too lazy to get out of bed to do that.

"They don't turn up and it's a known thing for Tauranga Maori to do that."

The company, which had contracts with some cruise ships to provide cultural liaison and perform on board, was asked to keep off port land before Christmas. Employees must now wait for potential customers outside the gates.

"We have a big problem with Tauranga port because they don't want culture on their port," Puriri said.

"We're trying hard to do something positive in the community."

Port of Tauranga commercial manager Graeme Marshall said the group was removed because of a security breach. "The representation of who came through the gate into the port did not match up with their identification."

But, even with the correct paperwork, the group may not be allowed back.

"The other issues ... to be taken into account would be the authenticity of what they're representing," said Marshall, who feared the port could receive "international condemnation" if non-Maori were representing Maori culture.

Local kaumatua Iria Whiu, from Ngati Ranginui and Ngai te Rangi, was outraged, saying Puriri's comments were "highly insulting".

Using non-Maori posing as Maori was an insult to Maori nationwide, he said.

Tourism Bay of Plenty general manager Tim Burgess commended the port's stance.

"There's a cultural issue at the heart of it ... presenting international visitors Maori culture when the people aren't actually Maori is not really the best look."

Puriri, who has Maori, German and English ancestry, dismissed the criticism as "splitting hairs".

She said her multinational team had learnt Maori customs and some Te Reo, and helped build a Maori village on the outskirts of Tauranga.

"None of my team are backpackers or full-blood Maori. But the tourists love us purely because we are proud of our culture and we look beautiful."

Details of the row emerged a week after the Herald on Sunday revealed Auckland man John Kairau has been charging tourists $5 to have their photo taken with a "Maori in traditional dress" using their own camera.

Kairau has a moko scrawled on his face with marker pen. He was moved off Princes Wharf after Tourism Auckland asked him to leave.