Tue. Aug 16th, 2022

After a two-and-a-half-year break in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise ships are expected to return to Tasmanian waters in October.

While for some, the thought of hundreds of ships bringing thousands of passengers ashore is not necessarily cause for celebration, it is a lifeline for others.

“It’s more than crucial, we need it to stay alive,” said Greg Irons from Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary north of Hobart.

“During the pandemic, us and a lot of people have gone into a huge amount of debt to keep their staff employed,” Mr Irons said.

“[Cruise tours] are quick income, and it’s how we pay our wages when we’re running at a loss during the winter. “

Prior to the federal government banning cruise ships in March 2020, the industry was booming in Tasmania.

A report from KPMG found that between 2012-2015, there was on average at least one cruise ship in a Tasmanian port 60 days a year.

In 2019-2020, that number was almost 200.

Bonorong is one of the most popular day trips for cruise passengers, and that income kept their rescue service, vet surgery and sanctuary running.

“If people want us to keep saving wildlife, we need to have people coming through those gates.”

Callie pulls on Greg's shirtsleeve as he watches on in amusement.
Greg Irons says businesses like Bonorong rely on cruise season income to keep paying staff during quiet winter months. (ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The cruise ship industry said passengers generated a huge amount of economic activity for the state.

“I think the latest figure in 2018-2019 was over $ 100 million,” Australian Cruise Association CEO Jill Abel said.

Despite some bad press prior to the shutdown, people are eager to cruise again.

“In fact, the numbers are even stronger than before,” Ms Abel said.

“There are also lots of ‘new to cruise’ people who are finding that other forms of travel are quite challenging.”

Woman removes white face mask, trees in the background
Cruise ship passengers will have to wear masks and be vaccinated.(ABC News: Mark Leonardi)

But not everything will be the same as before.

Ms Abel said that while other sectors and industries might be relaxing their COVID-19 safety plans, cruise ships were not.

“We will require mandatory vaccination of passengers and crew,” she said.

“We will also have pre-testing and measures to ensure passengers on-ship are healthy and safe, and shore-side is the same.

“Seventeen million people have been cruising in the last 18 months in over 100 countries around the world, and the re-start in Australia has been brought about by the confidence in those numbers.”

But not everyone is assured and enthusiastic.

Ex-tourism boss sounds ‘mega-ship’ warning

Cruise ship in Hobart
Simon Currant believes the tourism experience for “ordinary” tourists should be prioritized over cruise ship passengers. (Supplied: @tassie_heights)

Tourism developer Simon Currant said the return of cruises – and in particular, the return of “mega-ships”, or vessels with a capacity of over 3,000 people – does more harm than good.

“I feel very sad that we are just welcoming open-slather these mega-ships. We are not a mass-tourism place,” he told ABC Local Radio.

“We are going to be over-run with cruise ship passengers swamping our greatest attractions.

Australia also began welcoming back international tourists in February.

While flight bookings are only around half of what they were pre-COVID, Mr Currant says it is “ordinary” visitors we should be prioritizing.

“Ordinary Tasmanian visitors who stay longer, spend more and are generally higher-yielding than a cruise ship passenger, are being excluded.

“We have to understand the brand damage for a normal tourist – which is the majority of people that come here – what it does to them to be battling their way through the thousands of people that come off a cruise ship.”

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