‘I had hoped to come to this room today with some good news and it's such a shame I can't be ecstatic about the opening up of New Zealand as my friends are in Australia… It is not to be,’ he said during the ‘Australia and New Zealand Regional Developments’ conference session at Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami.
He explained that the country has ‘lived in an artificial bubble that has induced some degree of fear,’ which is why its government has been ‘tardy’ in reintroducing cruising.
On the other hand, he said, that there are some perks to New Zealand’s delay opening up, in particular in being able to learn lessons around protocols from other destinations: ‘There’s some degree of positivity in going slow… all the hard yards have been done elsewhere and it means we can all come to the table with the protocols that CLIA and cruise lines have already put together.’
He estimated that from May 1, international tourists will make their return followed by China and India later in the year, noting that cruising within the country will ‘definitely’ have restarted by October. ‘The cruise industry will be regenerated and rebuilt. We realise – and so does the government – that cruise is an integral part of the restart of the New Zealand economy.’
The New Zealand Cruise Association is currently participating in weekly meetings with government agencies to discuss opening up. In addition, its pre- and post-cruise workshops – which typically looked at the ‘nuts and bolts’ of cruise tourism, such as shore excursions and transport – ‘will discuss sustainability and emissions.’ ‘We’ll be broadening the discussions we had in the past to include other issues we need to deal with,’ he stated.
It will be another couple of years before Australia gets to pre-pandemic levels,’ according to Jill Abel, CEO, Australia Cruise Association.
She said, ‘The timing couldn’t have been better on opening up on April 17. The enthusiasm and media coverage will do a lot to help my dear friends in New Zealand.’
Speaking in a pre-recorded video played out during the session, Philipa Harrison, MD, Tourism Australia revealed that ‘cruise ships in Australia will be phased through July to August with the largest ships on the eastern seaboard.’ She went on to say ‘cruising is bouncing back and demand is strong,’ with Tourism Australia having now ‘kicked off campaigns and activations’ to draw tourists back to the country.
The statement prompted moderator Joel Katz, MD, CLIA Austalasia to remark, ‘It’s been a tumultuous two years for the South Pacific who really rely on the cruise industry for their livelihoods. Now there is a light at the end of the tunnel.’
P&O Cruises’ Pacific Explorer was the first cruise ship to return to Australia, arriving April 18. The country received 300,000 international visitors before the pandemic.
Alignment of protocols
Abel said ‘energy has waned’ on locations coming up with disparate rules and that there is now more ‘national consistency’ on protocols. Describing the Commonwealth as having been ‘very disjointed,’ she said that in ‘the past few weeks, we’ve started to see protocols falling into line.’
‘Australia is open, hopefully very soon New Zealand will be open and our South Pacific counterparts will be open.’
Vaccination rates in Australia currently stand at 67%, ‘a really positive step forward for the restart,’ according to Abel.
Australia develops port infrastructure
Some cruise terminals in Australia have been upgraded, said Philip Holliday, CEO and director, Port Authority of New South Wales, and ‘the port authority will be installing shore power at one of our cruise terminals in Sydney - the first to do so in the southern hemisphere.’
He said, ‘We’ve been making sure the facilities around Australia are prepared. There’s a great deal of work being done to prepare [for cruise ships] and there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic.’
He went on to add that letters of intent in connection with the use of shore power in Australia have been signed with MSC Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Viking. ‘There’s real positivity around this; we’re all conscious that if you stand still you go backwards. It’s a pretty exciting opportunity for us all.’
The director and CEO encouraged attendees to add Australia to their itineraries, reminding them of the challenge of trying to secure a cruise call in Sydney pre-pandemic, urging ‘Now is your chance. People have been banging on the door saying we can’t get in, now you can.’
Abel noted that ‘a number of projects were coming to light before the pandemic;’ currently in Cairns and Townsville dredging is underway and activity to develop infrastructure in Broome is ongoing.
A sustainable return
O’Sullivan rejected the notion that New Zealand is opposed to high volumes of cruise calls. He claimed there is no ‘right kind of tourist,’ asserting high volume can be positive as long as it ‘is managed in a realistic and sustainable way.’
‘We can’t exist for a small number of very high-end people who fly in for a few days and fly out again,’ he said. ‘All people who come arrive on cruises are high quality and high value, and we are seeing a change in the outlook of this from our government.
‘They [cruise passengers] aren’t causing problems… each one has a pocket full of money they want to put into the economy. Everyone is important.’
Abel shared similar sentiments regarding the economic merits of cruise passengers in Australia and addressed issues arising for the industry owing to the absence of roles filled that are connected with tourists. ‘Backpackers and visa holders were out [of the country] for a long time, so it’s going to be a challenging time over the next couple of years as a result of that with people needing jobs. Its transport, its attractions, its farmers that it touches. We have to keep telling the government about the positive impact cruise can have on this rebuilding phase.’
Abel explained that shore excursions will now focus on ‘on the great outdoors, smaller groups and interactions with communities,’ but conceded, ‘The tourism sector has been very hard hit, some tour operators are no longer.’
At the same time, she highlighted the opportunity this presents for ‘new and rejuvenated products to come into the space.’ Roadshows in Australia are being held to promote cruising within the country while bringing opportunities to the forefront.
‘I’ve been on those roadshows,’ responded Katz, ‘the enthusiasm for cruise’s return in Australia has been really impressive.’
Similar roadshoads are also being held in New Zealand.
The value of the industry
On the economic impact that the pandemic has had on Australia’s domestic economy, Holliday remarked, ‘It has been a recognition of the value of cruising. Politicians weren’t huge fans of cruising to be honest, but when you take something away and see the devastation that causes, people start to notice. Now, there’s real excitement about cruising coming back.’