Cruise Ship Guide

Cruise tourism is going great and growing! 

This cruise season will see the return of the big numbers we used to see in port pre-COVID. It is expected that up to 360,000 visitors and 149,000 crew members will make their way to New Zealand shores in 2023/24.

This presents a huge opportunity for retailers. We have prepared this guide to help you better understand the needs of cruise passengers and to prepare for the influx of shoppers that cruise tourism brings. 

What can retailers do to prepare for Cruise Ship passengers? 

  • Find out when passengers are going to arrive and where they are going to be dropped off in your city or town. The New Zealand Cruise Ship Association has produced a useful schedule which allows you to see when and where ships are docking throughout New Zealand. 
  • Familiarise yourself with popular tours that cruise passengers take and their timetables. Cruise passengers are not limited to port towns, for example day trips visit Hobbiton in Matamata from Tauranga.  
  • Think about extending opening hours to accommodate passengers. 
  • Put on extra staff to cover the influx of shoppers and remind staff that these customers might need extra help finding their way around town, and to public amenities/tourist attractions. 
  • Be welcoming, use signage with the cruise ship’s name, or other personalised messages. You’ll find the ship names on the schedule above. 
  • Think about discounting, changing displays or bringing forward merchandise that might be more appealing to passengers. 
  • Willingness to arrange postage, accept foreign currency, offer a special discount or small gift to cruise passengers are also great ways to entice them in. 
  • If you decide to accept foreign currency, make your policy and exchange rate clear. 
  • Be careful if you decide to advertise ‘duty free’ sales. You run the risk of breaching the Fair-Trading Act if there is no duty on the product in the first place. You can advertise goods as ‘tax free’. 
  • Don’t forget the crew – they have less time ashore than the passengers and use it carefully.  
  • Find out what your local Council is doing to assist Cruise Ship passengers. For example, in Wellington uniformed city ‘ambassadors’ are located at key points to answer questions and help passengers find their way around. 
  • Cruise passengers need a range of things, not just souvenirs – weather-related items (umbrellas or sunhats), pharmacy products (such as paracetamol or sunscreen) or grocery items are also wanted and can be expensive to buy on board.  
  • Some cruise passengers are accustomed to shopping in malls and may be surprised at the concept of high street shopping. If applicable, you might want to think about signage explaining that you can get everything you need in the high street shops! 

Where are Cruise passengers coming from?

The 2019/20 report by the New Zealand Cruise Association shows that Australia (51%) was the largest source of cruise passengers coming to New Zealand. This was followed by North America (21%), Europe (12%) and Canada (4%). 

On the other hand, if cruise was a country of residence, it would rank third behind China and Australia as a source of international visitors to New Zealand.

Where do Cruise Ships visit? 

Cruise ships can call into 17 New Zealand ports. However, 85% of cruise activity is concentrated in seven ports: Auckland, Tauranga, Wellington, Akaroa, Port Chalmers and Fiordland.  

Lyttelton is our newest cruise port, completed for the 2021 season. It was expected to cause an increase of 238% in port calls.  

The Bay of Islands, Napier and Picton also receive a significant proportion of cruise activity. 

Whangarei will be a new port of call for the 2023/24 season. 

The most common cruise itinerary for New Zealand is trans-Tasman, which typically starts in Sydney, taking two nights to cross the Tasman Sea, then visits Fiordland, Port Chalmers, Lyttelton or Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland and the Bay of Islands before returning to Australia. 

When do Cruise Ships visit New Zealand? 

The extended season runs from late August through to late June; however the bulk of large ships arrive between early October and the end of April.  

The New Zealand Cruise Ship Association has produced a useful schedule which allows you to see when and where ships are docking throughout New Zealand. 

Facts and figures:

  • Over the year to June 2020, cruise ships injected $547m of spending into the New Zealand economy. The 2020 season was cut short by the closing of New Zealand’s border in March 2020, so expenditure was down 3.2% on 2019, but 2020 was still 23% higher than 2018 and 85% higher than 2015 (Infometrics 2023).
  • In 2019/20 cruise season, there were 901 port calls.
  • Ovation of the Seas is the largest cruise ship to berth in New Zealand with a passenger capacity of 4,190.
  • There’s huge opportunity for retailers in all of this: total expenditure generated by the cruise industry for 2023/24 is around the $600 million dollar mark. 
  • If cruise was a country of residence it would rank third behind China and Australia as a source of international visitors to New Zealand.  

Our sources: Infometrics, Cruise Tourism Economic overview 

As always, if you are a Retail NZ member and have any issues, our Advice Service is here to help. You can email us, or call us on 0800 472 472 (1800 128 086 from Australia).

Updated January 2024.

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