The first of 20 cruise ships to visit Marlborough this season docked in Picton last week.
Radiance of the Seas had almost 2500 passengers and 900 crew.
There's no doubt about it, a large ship pulling into Picton definitely gets attention and is a very visible indicator of visitors coming into the region.
Along with the attention come the questions, such as: What attracts a ship to Picton? What do the passengers do for the day? And how we can get more coming to Marlborough?
Cruise lines consider scheduling logistics, timing and fuel costs, port infrastructure capability, revenue generation potential from shore excursions and passenger port ratings when selecting ports of call.
Cruise ships are getting larger, so this year nine of the 20 ships have to berth at Shakespeare Bay.
Port Marlborough has adapted the wharf facilities there to accommodate cruise ships.
Cruise lines contract a specialist travel seller to compile a variety of shore excursions for all their New Zealand ports that can be sold as part of the cruise package or on board as they sail.
This is a big revenue generator for the cruise lines. The travel seller will negotiate with local experience providers and coach companies to develop the tours, tailored for cruise passengers with assistance from our Destination Marlborough team.
Here in Marlborough, boat cruises and wine tours are also popular. Often this means coaches are brought in for the day from neighbouring regions to meet the demand.
For example, about 700 passengers from the Radiance of the Seas ventured out on pre-booked shore excursions throughout Marlborough.
Yet more of the passengers chose to make their arrangements on the day. They have limited time before the cruise ship departs, so they come racing into the Picton i-Site seeking out local tours, tips and ideas of what to do.
Some want to hire a car, while others are content to explore Picton for the day.
Trained volunteers are stationed around the town and foreshore to assist passengers with their queries and provide a friendly welcome.
I spoke to one local from Picton who said she met a passenger who was thrilled with the Picton shops and had spent $200 in one store on gifts to take home.
Whenever a cruise ship makes its first call to a port, there is a customary plaque exchange between the port and captain.
I attended this with Port Marlborough chief executive Ian McNabb and Marlborough District Council Deputy Mayor Jenny Andrews. After this, the captain, hotel director and chief engineer accepted the invitation for a shore visit hosted by Destination Marlborough and Port Marlborough.
They appreciated their time out from the ship and said the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre was "truly remarkable" and equal to the Smithsonian.
So how does our port rate with passengers? Last season Carnival passengers rated Picton seven out of 10, equal to Wellington. They made special mention of the Picton Flower Ladies, who welcome passengers with a corsage.
So keep up the good work, Marlborough. If we can continue to make a good impression on the passengers who come to Picton, they will keep coming.
- The Marlborough Express