4 Mar 2022

Cruise ship industry wants more certainty, sooner, about maritime border reopening

7:51 am on 4 March 2022

The cruise ship industry is urging the government to pick up the pace and provide more certainty around reopening the maritime border.

cruise ship

File image. Photo: Unsplash / Billy Pasco

While a phased reopening was announced last month, it has focused on air, not sea travel.

Cruise companies said they did not know when they would be able to return to Aotearoa and their preparation deadline was rapidly approaching.

After two grim years, the cruise ship industry remained hopeful their luck might soon change.

Government officials and the industry, including the New Zealand Cruise Association, had been meeting for months to discuss reopening the maritime border.

New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O'Sullivan said the clock was ticking down as cruise lines needed three to four months preparation so they could deploy in time.

But they needed to make decisions before then, he said.

"Realistically speaking March is the month when decisions needs to be made that the cruise lines can look at the maritime border opening and begin to make preparations."

Bookings were already strong and it was shaping up to be a successful season if it went ahead, O'Sullivan said.

"Of course without the maritime border, without ships, there will be no season. But I'm forever optimistic and we've done a lot of work along these lines with the various government agencies, and they've been as helpful in progressing it as far as they can.

"But it is a slow process and it needs to speed up."

The industry could not afford to lose another summer season, he said.

He did not rule out the prolonged border closures and uncertainty having an impact on cruise line company's decisions in the future.

"They need reassurance that New Zealand - which as a cruise economy and cruise industry has been built up over many, many years - is a country that they wish to do business with.

"This level of uncertainty will also lead to uncertainty for the future."

Auckland Unlimited's head of visitor economy Annie Dundas said the loss of cruise ships had been a blow for the city.

"It's been pretty harsh. I mean we've lost $200 million of revenue in that sector per annum, and that's pretty hard to come back from.

"We as a city are looking to welcome those cruise passengers back because they do provide vibrancy and they do also get out and about across the regions."

P&O Cruises Australia recently cancelled 21 cruises scheduled to leave from Auckland between July and November due to the uncertainty.

It would have been a great economic and morale boost for the city and surrounding regions, she said.

"That cancellation represented 42,000 Australians that would have been happily spending time and money in our retail stores, in our cafes and restaurants and one tourism experiences, and at a time in winter which is pretty slow and light for many tourism businesses. It's a massive economic hit," Dundas said.

Cruise Lines International Association Australasia managing director Joel Katz said companies needed answers.

"It's not only the cruise lines, but the travel agents, the tour operators, the food and beverage suppliers across New Zealand. Of course the hotels and cafes and restaurants and transport providers who provide for those passengers before and after their cruises.

"They're all saying that they need certainty."

Cruise ships had safety protocols including social distancing, masks and vaccine passes that were designed to keep guests and staff safe, and adapt to any Covid-19 changes, he said.

"So one of the things that we've been making clear in our discussion with government agencies is that we can't have a situation where if there's another variant or if there's a wave of Covid that the ships are prevented from returning to the region."

The Ministry of Health said government officials were engaging with stakeholders about how and when the maritime border might be opened up, and to whom.

"The maritime border has a number of points of entry into New Zealand that accommodate a greater range of vessels arriving than the air border does; so it has a number of unique complexities," the spokesperson said.

"When considering the opening of our borders internationally, the government decided to focus on the air border initially given the majority of people who travel to New Zealand arrive by air."

The ministry would not say when a decision would be made, but the local cruise industry hoped the 2022-23 season did not set sail without them.