The cruise industry says New Zealand is at risk of losing trips and companies if uncertainty continues around the border.
Princess Cruises announced plans to extend the hiatus on trips to Australia and Aotearoa until early next year with some canceled until March.
The summer cruise season generally starts from October and runs through April.
While cruises are back on the travelers’ menu in parts of Europe and Asia, local industry says the ship, and hope, has almost set sail for next season.
Before Covid-19, the upcoming cruise season was expected to bring more than $ 650 million to the economy.
Instead, cancellations have been piling up.
Cruise Association CEO Kevin O’Sullivan was not surprised by the news, but said it was a bitter pill.
“We’ve lost more than 60 percent of our reserves for the 21/22 season so far,” O’Sullivan said.
“So, right now, we have less than 40 percent fewer bookings. I hope there will probably be more cancellations as we move forward.”
Part of the problem was that there was no deadline for the return of the cruise ships, and discussions with the government had stalled, he said.
“Once we get to 90 percent vaccination and the borders start to soften, there will be a long way down the road to work out what needs to happen in New Zealand.”
The New Zealand cruise company Heritage Expeditions obtained an exemption to bring a passenger ship to our waters and travel in the Southern Ocean.
Expedition leader and commercial director Aaron Russ said adapting was key after losing 85 to 90 percent of their regular guests when the border was closed.
“For us it is survive or die in the current climate, so we have had to adapt and adjust. But it is an exceptional challenge. There is a great deal of uncertainty in everything we do.”
His company had just finished a successful season in Russia.
“Therefore, we required that the guests coming on board, as well as all of our staff and crew, be vaccinated or have negative PCR tests.”
It didn’t surprise him that international carriers were canceling.
“Many of the Northern Hemisphere partners we work with are discounting New Zealand as a destination for the next few years due to their marketing cycles. We are at risk of being left behind.”
Ponant Cruises Asia Pacific president Sarina Bratton hoped they wouldn’t have to cancel their December trips outside of Dunedin.
But the closed border was making them reconsider future travel, he said.
The company planned at least two years in advance and already planned a smaller presence in New Zealand in 2023, he said.
The 2024 plan was next on his list.
“Hopefully we can get more certainty from the government before we pass that to allow us to include New Zealand because it would be a huge shame not to be operating there.”
Some high-end tour companies were no longer planning to charter boats to come to New Zealand, he said.
Pounamu Tourism Group owner Paul Jackson said thousands of cruise ship passengers would typically ride the Marlborough Flyer steam train each season.
This year, he was preparing for an exclusively domestic season.
“We have erred on the side of caution, as we have really focused on the domestic market. We have not budgeted for the return of cruise ships until the end of next year,” Jackson said.
Only approved commercial vessels and a few other small categories can cross the maritime border.
The Health Ministry said foreign cruise ships could not visit, but domestic cruise ships traveling within New Zealand waters could currently operate.
“At this stage, the government has no plans to make any changes to the configuration of the maritime border in relation to cruise ships. The underlying reason remains the ongoing global pandemic and the high risk associated with cruise ships.”
Several government agencies were collaborating to see how the maritime border could be opened safely and effectively.
“The maritime border is larger, it has more points of entry into New Zealand with a greater variety of ships arriving, and it has its own complexities.”
The border has been divided with the focus on the air border due to the way most people travel through Tasmania.
“It is being considered how and when the maritime border could be opened, and to whom.”
Carnival Corporation, which operates Princess Cruises, declined to comment.