New Zealand is expected to miss out on about $150 million of income because half the superyachts due to follow the America's Cup next year have pulled out.
More than 100 of the luxury boats were expected to start arriving at the end of the year but many have cancelled because of Covid-19 border restrictions and the remainder need urgent advice on quarantine rules before they will commit to sailing to New Zealand.
"We believe that maybe 50 percent have headed back to the Mediterranean or changed their plans, not leaving the US or Europe because of Covid-19 and about 50 percent are waiting for advice that they can come to New Zealand," Peter Busfield, the head of the Marine Industry Association, said.
Superyachts and their owners were very valuable, he said.
"Its amazing the amount of jobs that one superyacht coming to New Zealand for a refit and maintenance will provide, nearly $3 million worth of service work, grease and oil change on one of these yachts is $500,000.
"That's just not money, that means jobs and turnover for the marine mechanics and the florists and food providers, the marina providers and all those people that supply those nice yachts when they visit New Zealand."
He wanted to make sure New Zealand did not risk missing out on another $150m - by getting special clearance for the remaining 50 to 60 superyachts expected to sail here, along with several hundred smaller overseas yachts.
"We need to get to a position that special conditions are made so that these boats can come here maybe under level 1 when there's strict border controls. This will be a case in point where we'll want special provisions fore these yachts to come due to the amount of jobs and business that they'll bring to our local communities."
Other Covid-19 impacts on Cup projects
Orams Marine Village chief executive Neven Barbour said it is too soon to say how much the superyacht cancellations will affect business.
The $100m project at Auckland's Wynyard Quarter is being completed in time for the superyachts' arrival at the end of the year.
Before Covid-19 hit, the village - which is pitched as a world class facility offering refits, maintenance and other boat services - was expected to generate $40m in marine spending and $10m in tourism within three years, creating more than 500 jobs.
But its own marketing has also been scuppered because several boat shows around the world have been scrapped.
"Normally we attend various boat shows around the world and are able to talk to the market but at this stage that can't happen so we're really into a new type of marketing and selling and communications strategy," Barbour said.
Before the pandemic, the industry was growing steadily, worth $2.3 billion with 8000 jobs including 500 boat building apprenticeships. It exports $700m worth of marine gear and boats.
Industry bosses said the Covid-19 crisis would take a big chunk of turnover this winter but it should bounce back quickly.
The head of Whanganui-based Q-West Boat Builders, Myles Fothergill, said some tourism-related projects had been shelved but other commercial opportunities had come up.
He said the government should be helping develop boat building opportunities outside tourism, including Auckland's ageing ferry fleet.
The America's Cup won't be the same next year because of Covid-19 restrictions, but Busfield said the event - and the country - would still get global media coverage.
And the Marine Industry Association is trying to boost business with a new advertising campaign boasting the benefits of boating to locals called See New Zealand by Boat.