The travel industry has breathed a sigh of relief following yesterday’s confirmation that Australia’s cruise ban would be lifting after two long years.
The Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, confirmed Tourism Minister Dan Tehan’s prediction that the latest extension of the ban on international cruise ships arriving or departing from Aussie ports would be the last, meaning 17 April will mark the official return of cruise holidays in Australia.
Hunt said the decision was supported by the progress made by the eastern states and the cruise industry to develop health protocols and common guidelines to support a safe return to cruising.
Additional measures will be introduced to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading onboard ships, including requiring passengers be double vaccinated, enhancing pre-arrival screening, implementing outbreak management plans, and COVID-19 safety plans.
The announcement is a breakthrough for more than 18,000 Australians who depend on cruise tourism, including travel agents, tour operators, food and produce providers, entertainers, port workers and many other industry suppliers, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)’s managing director for Australasia, Joel Katz.
“We now have an opportunity to work on a revival,” Katz said.
“Cruising has changed enormously in response to the pandemic and the work our industry has done with medical experts internationally has resulted in health protocols that are among the most extensive to be found anywhere in world tourism.”
On average, pre-COVID cruise sales made up a third or more of most Helloworld agents’ leisure sales and contributed significantly to their air and land sales as well.
“This has been a long time coming,” Andrew Burnes, Helloworld’s CEO, said.
“The lifting of the ban will make a material difference to the sales of our agents and of Helloworld’s leisure travel divisions, both retail and wholesale.”
For Flight Centre, the domestic cruise has been the hardest hit business segment within the company throughout the pandemic.
“Of course, there’s a lot to do before the ships arrive and are full of passengers and crew again, but this announcement is a hugely significant moment for our business, the cruise industry, and the passionate bunch of travellers that cruisers are,” Kelly Spencer, Flight Centre Australia’s general manager said.
“We saw a three-fold in enquiries on all cruise product when the Australian border reopened for Aussies in November.
“For us, this illustrates that, despite the government ban, the demand for cruise is there, as is the confidence to get back on board ships.”
However, Dean Long, CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), said the final decision on whether cruise ships would be welcomed back was in the hands of state and territory governments.
“Given international cruise ships must meet all state and territory public health requirements to be able to berth, clarity is needed before the real planning of getting ships back here can begin,” Long said.
“Even if everything lines up and the States and Territory Governments also green light the return of cruise, it’s going to take a couple of months for the ships to get here.”
President of Carnival Australia, Marguerite Fitzgerald, said discussions are progressing with Commonwealth and the eastern states to finalise a set of health protocols and guidelines ahead of a re-start.
P&O, a subsidiary of Carnival, has flagged a return to cruising at the end of May, with Pacific Explorer sailing from Sydney on 31 May as part of the line’s new 2022 program of sailings from Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Despite the imminent return of international cruising, Dan Russell, general manager of Brisban based Clean Cruising, has pointed out that jobs are still on the line after many ships were redeployed to other markets.
“On the same day we got the green light, we also processed several hundred cancellations on Royal Princess after she was removed from the Australian market in large part due to the uncertainty around New Zealand’s ongoing cruise ban and no clear restart date,” Russell said.
Russell said Clean Cruising, which his family established 21 years ago, had lost more than half of their team of 50 since the start of the pandemic. He is “gravely concerned” at the loss of skills across the industry, with 15 team members under 35 years of age leaving their travel careers for other fields.
“Rebuilding the cruise industry after being at anchor for two years will take a long time. Those still working in the field have decades of experience, but we’ve lost an entire generation of younger recruits who were forced into other industries,” he said.
“Growing these jobs again will ensure the legacy knowledge transfer occurs, and passengers continue getting great advice before they set sail.
“For the first time in two years, our phones have lit up with new bookings so we know there’s a lot of pent up demand out there.”
Featured image: iStock/lovleah