The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is urging the Australian government to take “real steps” towards a plan for the resumption of cruising, after the Health Minister extended travel restrictions for a further three months.
The association’s regional managing director, Joel Katz, has warned that the government’s lack of planning for the future of Australia’s cruise industry was causing lasting damage to the economy.
“Our industry needs some certainty, but after months of discussions with government, the suspension has been extended again without any clear route from government towards a careful and responsible resumption of cruising,” he said.
“The cruise industry has done an enormous amount of work to implement extensive new health protocols globally, but Australia is now the only major cruise destination in the world where there is no progress towards their adoption.”
On Thursday, Health Minister Greg Hunt extended the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015 for a further three months, with its new potential end date falling on 17 September.
The emergency period, which has been in place since 18 March 2020, restricts the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory as well as both outbound and inbound international travel.
Other emergency determinations include mandatory pre-departure testing and mask-wearing for international flights and restrictions on trade for retail outlets at international airports.
“The cruise industry is not asking for special treatment or to simply reopen the doors to cruising,” Katz said.
“Our industry has been working in good faith with the government for more than a year, and we’ve presented some of the most stringent COVID-19 measures to be found anywhere in tourism, developed with the support of medical experts, and we need governments to take the next steps forward.”
According to CLIA, the suspension of cruising is estimated to have cost the Australian economy up to $6 billion since March 2020 and threatens thousands of local businesses including travel agents, tour operators, farmers and food suppliers, transport providers and technical support providers.
“Our industry’s new health measures are already in place and working successfully in other countries where cruising has resumed,” Katz said.
“It’s now time to break the cycle of inaction in Australia and finalise the pathway forward.”
Meanwhile, Tom Manwaring, chair of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), said that while the extension is not unexpected, it reinforces the need for wider, ongoing support for travel agents and businesses.
“The decision to extend the international travel ban is not that much of a surprise, especially given the low COVID-vaccination take-up in Australia,” he said.
“We look forward to the ongoing adoption of common-sense, positive measures to get Australians travelling again, including the impending introduction of more safe travel zones with selected ‘green’ destinations.”
Manwaring said there needs to be more encouragement for Aussies to get vaccinated, and that the industry needs greater clarity on what factors will trigger the government to re-open our international border.
“Most of all we need ongoing support for Australia’s travel agents and businesses who are performing such important work in supporting customers, and whose skill and expertise will be so heavily relied on as Australians start travelling again given the complexities of COVID-travel,” he said.
Hunt said the government will continue to consult with the states and territories and the maritime industry on options for the staged resumption of cruising when the medical advice is that it is safe to do so.
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