Cruise ship visitors spent about $132 million in New Zealand in the past season, and passenger numbers are expected to jump 20 per cent in the coming season, breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time.
A Tourism Industry Association report shows 208,600 passengers are expected in the cruise season which is just about to start, up from a record-breaking 2011-12 season when 174,000 visited.
As well as the $132m spent by passengers, another $100m was spent by cruise companies on a range of products, from food and drinks, to fuel and port fees.
Wellington's CentrePort said last week that 83 cruise ships called during the past season, and this season 91 had been confirmed.
The potential of the cruise sector will be discussed at the TIA Summit in Wellington today, where cruise ship company Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Shery will be a keynote speaker.
“Cruising is a rolled gold opportunity for New Zealand,” she said.
“The 174,000 cruise passengers who arrived here last season are the equivalent of around 330 full A380 passenger aircraft landing in New Zealand - almost one for every day of the year. And every one of those people is looking for great holiday experiences that New Zealand can offer.”
However, the cruise market is a small fraction of the 2.6 million short-term visitors that come to New Zealand each year.
Last year, total international tourism spending in New Zealand was almost $10 billion. On average, each visitor spends $2783 on their New Zealand visit, or about $2300 excluding airfares.
In contrast, the average adult cruise passenger spends almost $900 onshore during a trip to New Zealand, with about $244 a person in the shops and another $129 for onshore food and drinks.
The single biggest category is spending on activities and excursions on shore, at an average $361 each.
The figures exclude fees and commissions paid to foreign-based middlemen. In total about 63 per cent of all onshore spending goes direct to local providers, while about a third goes to cruise lines and 5 per cent to travel agents.
Two-thirds of cruise ship passengers were “transit” visitors who started and ended their cruise outside New Zealand and they spent an average of $782 each.
Exchange visitors who started or ended their visit in this country spent much more - an average of more than $1100 each, the report shows.