Cruise Industry outlines plans for a relaunch in Australia
-BUT CRUISING’S STARTUP QUESTION STILL REMAINS
By Editor Dallas Sherringham
When will we be cruising? It’s the biggest question Australian cruise devotees are asking in the leadup to a potential relaunching of international travel.
And the answer is “December” according to those in the ‘know’.
While overseas cruising has returned on masse, the Australian Government has been forced to restrict cruising to domestic packages in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Not that is a bad choice, in fact Australia’s north west is a superb destination. I have enjoyed a Coral Expeditions media cruise to the Kimberley and it is one of the best cruises I have ever done.
However, Sydneysiders overwhelmingly favor cruising out of the harbor to the South Pacific and New Zealand on major cruise ships.
Most major cruise lines have put itineraries on hold until next year and are offering cheap rates and flash sales on 2022-23 itineraries.
The big problem is that the travel bubble with New Zealand has burst and island nations either want to avoid the pandemic or countries such as Fiji are having their own crisis.
It seems certain the first packages will “cruises to nowhere” and cruises up the East Coast to Cairns. A cruise to nowhere is normally a three or four day “sampler”.
Ship owners lobby group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has outlined a four-phase pathway to resume cruising in Australia, designed to align with government plans to revive tourism and reopen borders.
The cruise pathway has been developed in response to the four-phase National Plan agreed by Australian governments, which sets out key stages of reopening and the national vaccination targets that trigger them.
But a big problem is the Federal Government has yet to start serious talks on plans for a restart of the multi-billion dollar cruise industry with CLIA. The good news is the Health Department has acknowledged it will do so once its own plans are complete.
CLIA chair Gavin Smith of Royal Caribbean spelt out to media outlets how hard it had been to get those talks started with federal and state health departments. “But despite the frustrations, we remain respectful,” he said.
He said CLIA was negotiating to try and get exemptions for individual ships, and change the current three-month bans on foreign flagged vessels to rolling monthly bans as vaccines kick in.
He maintained that cruising would be the safest holiday in Australia when it was allowed at the end of the year, with all crew and passengers vaccinated, QR codes to track movements and full hospital facilities on site.
Close to a breakthrough
“We’re close to making a breakthrough,” he told media.
Mr Smith has Ovation of the Seas scheduled to start cruising in Australia in December.
CLIA Managing Director Australasia Joel Katz said aligning the industry’s pathway with the government’s national plan would help provide certainty for the more than 18,000 Australians whose jobs rely on cruising. It would also allow the implementation of the extensive health protocols developed by cruise lines globally in response to COVID-19, which are already operating where cruising has restarted overseas.
“This is about having plans agreed in advance so that we’re ready as conditions improve with the rising vaccination rate,” Mr Katz said. “Our governments have created a four-phase plan to reopen Australia, and we’re now calling for our own four-phase pathway to be included in this process.”
Carnival is a favorite with Australian families
Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas enters Sydney harbor
Key Goals For The Cruise Industry Pathway Are:
• Current Phase- Vaccinate, prepare and pilot – Agreement between governments and the cruise industry on a framework for cruising’s resumption and the implementation of the industry’s layered health protocols including testing and vaccination, with potential to pilot small domestic expedition cruises as health conditions allow.
• Vaccination Transition Phase with 70% of adult population vaccinated – Resume limited domestic-only cruises within an Australian bubble, in line with the industry’s extensive health protocols.
• Consolidation Phase with 80% of adult population vaccinated)– Achieve more extensive domestic sailings and begin carefully controlled trans-Tasman itineraries and other regional “bubble” sailings when conditions allow, with ongoing health protocols in place.
• Post Vaccination Phase – Resume carefully controlled international itineraries from Australian ports with ongoing health protocols in place.
Mr Katz said Australia was now the only major cruise market in the world where governments had yet to achieve progress on a framework for cruising’s resumption.
“Almost one million people have successfully sailed in countries where cruising has already resumed, including in the US, Europe and parts of Asia,” Mr Katz said.
“Cruising involves long lead-times ahead of operations, so we need a plan in place now so we can work towards reviving an industry worth more than $5 billion a year to communities around Australia.”