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Ships deliver record ratepayer dividend

Far North ratepayers and the wider Te Tai Tokerau economy are set to benefit by around $27 million thanks to this year’s cruise ship season.

Far North ratepayers and the wider Te Tai Tokerau economy are set to benefit by around $27 million thanks to this year’s cruise ship season.

The 2023/24 cruise ship season will be the region’s biggest yet, with a total of 93 ships docking at the Bay of Islands between October 2023 and April 2024.

This will see more than 150,000 passengers keen to potentially spend up in the region.

According to Stats NZ 2019 data, $170 was the average spend by cruise ship passenger, with this season estimated to rise to about $180 per passenger.

Far North Holdings Limited (FNHL) business development manager Irwin Wilson says this season will be a significant boost for both the local and regional economy and is excited to see the area come alive again post-Covid.

“We are really looking forward to this cruise ship season, especially given so many businesses did it tough during the pandemic,” Wilson says.

“Pēwhairangi-The Bay of Islands has a lot to offer, from its rich culture to its stunning scenery and top tourist activities, so it is a very popular destination for our cruise ships passengers.

“It is also Tai Tokerau's largest and most convenient port, so it fits nicely into the ships' programmes as they transit around New Zealand.”

In addition to the regional economic benefits from cruise ships, Wilson says the benefit to Far North ratepayers will also be significant, with FNHL’s budgeted revenue tipping more than $1 million.

“From the cruise ships this season, we anticipate a revenue of $1.2 million and from that, FNHL will contribute $320,000 back to Far North District Council in the form of dividends,” Wilson says.

“This will be the biggest contribution to the council and will be up by more than 50 per cent on any previous full season.”

To date, FNHL has spent $350,000 on an additional pontoon and $250,000 this year on other upgrades to cater for cruise ships. This year, FNHL will operate the shore-side facilities for the cruise ships, including managing the tender piers, all security at the wharves and in the carparks.

Wilson says they will also manage the shuttle bus requirements and, alongside Business Paihia, will inform the community of the daily cruise ship activities and timings.

Paihia business owner, Robyn Stent of Cabbage Tree, says the cruise ship season is a vital part of their business each year.

Stent says that after three years of losses, she and other local business owners are ‘quietly’ excited about the impending arrival of the cruise ship passengers.

“We’ve had a really tough past few years, first with Covid-19 and then with last year’s rain, so we’re looking forward to this year’s cruise ship season,” Stent says.

“It’s fabulous to see the boats returning and it’s got to be good for the town as it’s the largest number we’ve ever seen.”

Popular Bay of Islands tourist business, Salt Air, is a family business established by owner Grant Harnish in 1992. Salt Air originally offered scenic flights around the Bay of Islands using a Grumman Super Widgeon seaplane from the Paihia waterfront. The business now offers helicopter tours and remains one of the popular tourist attractions in the area.

Harnish says the cruise ship season is without question a key driver of business and ensured he is able to employ a full crew of workers.

“It certainly contributes positively towards our business and allows us to maintain the employment of our seven permanent crew members all year, so without the cruise ships, we’d struggle to keep as many people as we do,” Harnish says.

“I’ve been working with cruise ships for the last 30 years, so it’s nice to know it’s bouncing back because this is where we were meant to be in 2021.

“It’s also not just the days the cruise ships are here, it’s well proven these people come back and stay because we showcase the area so well, so there’s much more to it than just one day.

“I say bring on October 16!”

Pēwhairangi- Bay of Islands is often the first or last port of call for cruise ship passengers when arriving into or departing the country.

On the international stage, the New Zealand Cruise Association represents Pēwhairangi- Bay of Islands with its cruise lines, with FNHL and Northland Inc hosting the cruise lines’ representatives on fact-finding tours.

New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive officer Jacqui Lloyd says as “the birthplace of the nation”, Pēwhairangi- Bay of Islands is a beautiful and culturally significant way for passengers to experience Aotearoa New Zealand.

She says the visitor experience alongside FNHL’s efficient operational management, meant the area was always a top destination for the industry.

“We’ve recently had a considerable increase in the port of calls for the Bay of Islands, so that just shows the attraction of the area for passengers and cruise lines,” Lloyd says.

“I think that comes down to the diversity of what’s on offer. It’s a tender port so that’s something different, the shopping is great and there’s the opportunity to experience Russell, Waitangi and Paihia, as well as other places in Northland.

“FNHL’s ability to manage the cruise ships not just for the guest experience but to ensure the crew operations work smoothly is a testament to how well they collaborate with different organisations, which really makes it attractive to cruise ships.”

Northland Inc is the region's economic development agency and works with communities, businesses, and partners to deliver positive economic benefits for Taitokerau Northland.

Tania Burt, Head of Destination and Communications at Northland Inc, says one year after the lifting of Covid restrictions, the 2023-24 cruise ship season is looking promising for the region.

“Following closely behind the one-year anniversary of New Zealand’s borders being fully re-opened, the upcoming summer season is shaping up to provide positive momentum for the visitor industry and cruise will contribute to this,” Burt says.

“Bay of Islands has a high port rating due largely to high-quality visitor experiences and levels of service and we enjoy the vibrancy that visitors bring to our towns.”

For more information on this year’s Cruise Ship season, visit: https://www.fnhl.co.nz/cruise-ships/

Photo: Pēwhairangi-The Bay of Islands is popular with cruise ship passengers because of its rich culture, stunning scenery and top tourist activities.